Higher Diploma in Social
SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES RE HOMELESSNESS
TOPICS BRIEFLY COVERED:
Official definition of adult homelessness; diverse
nature of homeless population
Routes out of homelessness, and preventing
homelessness arising in the first instance
Measuring homelessness: politics and methods and
Legislation and policy in
2 copyright newspaper clippings re the Cork
Homelessness Strategy and the politics of measuring homelessness (in the
READINGS: IN ADDITION TO THE REFERENCES IN THE TEXT, AND
THOSE ON THE LAST PAGE OF THIS HANDOUT, A GOOD GENERAL DISCUSSION (WITH
PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO THE UNITED STATES) IS WRIGHT, J. ET AL. (1998), BESIDE
THE GOLDEN DOOR (NEW YORK: ALDINE DE GRUYTER) ESP. CHAPTERS 1,2,3, AND 11.
OFFICIAL DEFINITION OF A HOMELESS ADULT
A homeless person is defined in section 2 of the Housing Act, 1988, as a person, who, in the opinion of the local authority concerned,
(a) has no accommodation
available which he or any other person who normally resides with him, or might
reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in
(b) is living in a hospital, county home, night
shelter or other such institution because he does not have accommodation of the
kind referred to in (a),
is unable to provide accommodation from his own
[source: DoELG website]
NOTE THE VARIETY OF HOUSEHOLD
CIRCUMSTANCES COVERED HERE: ‘homeless people’ are not a
homogeneous category. There are fairly distinct groups, each with its own routes
into and out of homelessness. Strictly in terms of their accommodation
profile, their circumstances may be quite different. For example, distinguish
the following categories:
The street drinker who is also a ‘rough
family fleeing domestic violence
teenager sleeping rough or on a friend’s couch because of a dispute with
parents and/or drugs and mental problems,
those leaving care or detention with no housing,
and unable to access private rented accommodation,
Not surprisingly, there is much more research done into these various
categories in the
There is a Rough Sleepers Unit in the
Cork Simon have recently produced a report highlighting the links
between youth homelessness, drugs and ill-health, Easing the Pain.
ROUTES OUT OF HOMELESSNESS:
HOUSING OPTIONS FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE
Longer term accommodation can take the form of
local authority housing, voluntary housing, or private rented accommodation
(usually rent supplemented). Housing which is short-term / transitional in
principle, (though sometimes long-term in practice) includes hostel type
accommodation and bed and breakfast accommodation.
Local authority housing and voluntary housing
People in need of permanent housing can apply to a local authority for a tenancy in a local authority house or flat. Applicants are assessed by the local authority and, if eligible, are placed on the local authority's housing list. The time taken before a tenancy is allocated will depend on the demand for housing in the local authority's area and the individual circumstances of applicants waiting for housing.
DoELG states that between 500 and 600 homes are allocated each year to homeless
households, mainly in the Dublin Corporation area. However, we don’t have a
breakdown of this figure by origin: e.g. whether these households have come from
the night shelter population, what household types are involved etc.
households may also be allocated to accommodation supplied by voluntary housing
associations. Housing associations operate as suppliers of social housing
through participation in either the Capital Assistance Scheme or the Rental
Subsidy Scheme. Under these schemes, loans and/or rental subsidies are paid by
the Department of the Environment and Local Government (via local authorities)
to approved voluntary or non-profit housing associations. These loans and
subsidies permit rental charges to tenants to be below the economic cost of
providing the accommodation. (see lecture notes).
quarters of households in projects funded by the Capital Assistance Scheme must
meet local authority criteria of housing need and household type (there is a
particular stress on special needs households such as the elderly and the
disabled), while there is an income ceiling determining eligibility for the
Rental Subsidy Scheme.
Hostel type accommodation
A range of hostel type accommodation is available for homeless people. Some of this accommodation is available on a nightly (usually first-come) basis while some is used as transitional or long-term accommodation.
Voluntary bodies operate accommodation for homeless people throughout the
country; these include the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Simon Community (in
are an estimated 900 shelter / hostel beds in Dublin, between 120 and 200 in
Cork, and smaller numbers in Galway, Limerick, Waterford and other urban areas.
These are divided between emergency beds and medium to long term beds.
Bed and Breakfast accommodation
Where the accommodation needs of a homeless person or family are immediate and acute and no suitable hostel accommodation is available they may be referred by a local authority, a health board or other body to bed and breakfast type accommodation until their needs and options can be more fully established. This type of emergency accommodation has mushroomed in recent years, in
Private Rented Accommodation
Private rented accommodation may be an appropriate accommodation option for some homeless people. Part of the rent of private accommodation may be met under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme. Decisions in relation to rent assistance rest with the local Health Board and are subject to a means test. Decisions in relation to accepting a rent-supplemented tenant rests with the individual private landlord (see lecture notes on landlord discretion; more generally, see lecture notes on the limited options of low-income and marginal households in the present housing market).
Measuring homelessness raises issues of definition,
of operationalisating that definition, and of politics.
wasn’t until 1989 that an Irish Government Department attempted to measure
homelessness. These first two Assessments of Homelessness covered over18s only,
and didn’t provide a gender breakdown. The local authority assessment of
housing need is actually about those who are in need of, and have proven
themselves eligible for, local authority housing. A separate census of homeless
people is potentially more accurate and ‘deficiency centred’.
The 1999 figure comprises
3,743 households of 3,992 adults and 1,242 dependant children. Of the adults,
2,593 are men and 1,399 are children.
This overall figure breaks down into one third in hostels, one third in
Health Board accommodation, and one third ‘with no accommodation they could
The 1991 and 1993 findings by the DoELG were widely criticised.
Research into homelessness has mainly been conducted by agencies, (and
has been descriptive rather than explanatory). Agencies generally estimate
larger homeless populations than do statutory bodies. These advocacy groups, in
the context of insufficient resources devoted to addressing homelessness, tend
to believe that there is a need to show very large numbers of homeless people:
“Counting the homeless is especially
political. Advocates believe that there is a “need”
to show startlingly large numbers of homeless people, particularly of the most “worthy
homeless”, women and children who are neither
mentally ill, nor with drug or alcohol problems or criminal histories “
(Schlay and Rossi, cited in Fahy and Watson p. 99).
On the other hand, bodies with statutory responsibility for housing
homeless people may downplay the extent of the problem. They may feel that
improving hostel facilities may attract demand from adjoining areas (where their
traditional role is to cater to ‘locals’, or ‘encourage’ e.g. young
people who might otherwise have resolved family differences to leave home.
Even with improvements in the methods for defining and operationalising
homelessness, we still don’t have reliable data on the numbers who are
homeless, and O’Sullivan cautions about over-reliance on the estimates and
theories of agencies or campaigning organisations: “While
organisations working with the homeless may feel that they have an understanding
of the dynamics that lead individuals and families into homelessness, they are
generally explaining the situation of a sample of homeless persons, and not
always a representative sample, who are known to them.
Furthermore, research has shown that the manner in which homelessness is
presented to the public by agencies may be more a reflection of the ideologies
of the agencies working in the field and their funding base rather than an
objective assessment of the needs and backgrounds of those who use their
services” (O Sullivan xiv)
Stock or flow measures?
A stock measure would count the number of homeless
at a particular point in time, while a flow measure would count the total number
of persons who experience homelessness over a longer period (usually a calendar
large numbers of people experience a problem for a short period of time; so that
a snapshot picture would understate the numbers of people affected, and where
the objective is to establish the numbers of people affected in a certain period
of time Where the objective is to gain an understanding of the dynamics of a
the objective is to assess the numbers of people affected by a problem at a
given point in time and of the appropriate response required, a stock measure
may be more appropriate e.g. the number of hostel beds needed or the number of
social housing units urgently needed.
Flow measures can be very expensive: they would
require extensive tracking mechanisms or extensive recall on the part of
respondents. There is also the risk of double counting.
Fahy and Watson suggest periodic stock counts
through the agencies providing services.
Refer above to the definition in the Housing Act 1988: this definition
can be interpreted narrowly (those sleeping rough, in hostels and county homes
etc.) or more broadly to include those living in accommodation that they cannot
be ‘reasonably expected’ to continue to live in due to poor quality,
overcrowding, domestic disputes etc – which would make it the same as the
local authority housing list.
Long-term hostel residents:
Guidelines issued by the Department on how to interpret the definition suggested
that long-term residents of a shelter or institution who are not seeking
alternative accommodation should not be classed as homeless, or be placed on the
Some local authorities didn’t count those staying in night shelters not from
Special needs: Some local authorities
also seem to have excluded those who require specialised sheltered housing.
Also excludes the individual homeless under the age of 18.
The result is that 44 local authorities reported no homeless in 1993!
Section 53 of the Health Act 1953:
this required the health authorities to provide accommodation to those unable to
provide shelter for themselves –
This provision ususally took the form of casual wards in the grounds of
hospitals or county homes. As a result of the Inter-Departmental Committee on
the Care of the Aged Report, many of these county homes closed or changed their
1966 Housing Act: the primary focus was
on providing housing for low-income families and elderly persons, with the
single homeless person remaining marginalized. In particular, there was a lack
of clarity as to what the division of labour was between Health Boards and Local
Authorities. (=lack of unambiguous legislation defining their respective
It defined homelessness, and required local authorities to conduct
periodic assessments of homelessness in their area. It placed statutory
responsibility on local authorities to house the homeless
However, this is ‘permissive’ legislation: it allows local
authorities to intervene in various ways (direct provision, financial
assistance, support of voluntary bodies), but does not require them to do so.
Recognised role of, and provided for financial assistance to, voluntary
Section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991 confers a legal right duty on
health boards to provide accommodation for all homeless children in their area.
Homelessness: An Integrated Strategy (2000) (
The main elements (aspirations?!) of the Strategy are:
local authorities, Health Boards
and voluntary agencies to draw up action plans on a county by county basis to
provide a more coherent and integrated delivery of homeless related services,
including setting of broad targets. In
homeless for a to be set up in
every county, housed within the housing Strategic Policy Committee.
Division of labour: local
authorities responsible for housing, Health Boards for in-house care and health
Development of prevention
Greater co-operation with
More accommodation (and of a
greater variety) to be provided (the provision of sufficient accommodation to
ensure that every homeless person has immediate shelter; increased stress on
(Funding for the
The most recent general policy statement in the
THE HOMELESSNESS STRATEGY
“1 in 3 local authorities have no
action plan for homelessness “
cppyright Irish Independent
Local authorities are not implementing the
Government’s policy on Homelessness.
Investigations by the Simon Community found that
one in three local authorities
have no action plan in place to tackle the issue,
more than a year after a
deadline set by Government has passed.
Emmet Bergin of the Simon Community says they also
found commitments on housing
are not being followed up. The Simon Community
claim that only 2 of the 35 local
authorities have actually addressed the question of
providing a certain
proportion of letting s to homeless people.
Mr Bergin says “ in the
strategy Government promised action to tackle the
problems facing homeless people this has not
happened, we have real questions
about the Governments commitment to the strategy.”
THE HOMELESSNESS STRATEGY IN
By Olivia Kelleher copyright The Irish Times
The new homelessness strategy needs to become more than a
policy document to prevent further deaths among people living rough in
Cllr Kathleen Lynch said the homelessness problem in the city
could be tackled if the resources were put in place to implement the Government
strategy announced last year.
"The public's patience is wearing thin with the
Government's argument that the money is available and that they are deploying
it. This is an excellent strategy, yet we are still waiting on the resources to
implement the strategy," she said.
Cork Simon Community recently revealed that 13 people had died
while sleeping on the streets of the city since last October. Ms Lynch said that
it would take more deaths among the homeless before the Government made funds
"There will be a cold snap between October and February
this year and a number of people will die," Ms Lynch said. "Then
people will start worrying about homeless people. It is so frustrating as
The new homelessness strategy is part of an integrated policy
announced by the Government last year.
The project manager of Cork Simon Community, Mr Aaron
O'Connell, said homeless people who had died in
"These are people who lived for a substantial period of
time on the streets without any access to medical facilities or shelter. Their
dietary intake wasn't sufficient and they had no quality of life," he said.
"We are badly in need of a consistent approach to
homelessness. These people need acceptance as well as a shelter for the
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Threshold claims that the housing
situation has spiralled out of control. Ms Margaret O'Neill, services
co-ordinator for Threshold, a housing organisation, said there was a chronic
shortage of housing in
THE POLITICS OF MEASURING HOMELESSNESS IN THE
unit 'is fixing figures'”
(copyright The Guardian newspaper)
Homelessness workers have accused the government's rough sleepers unit of fixing its twice-yearly count of the street population to meet its heavily-advertised target.
winter's survey, which was carried out last week, will show whether the
government has met its pledge to reduce the number of people sleeping rough by
two-thirds between 1998 and January 2002. July's survey showed that figures had
fallen from 1,850 to 703.
homelessness workers - including those who carried out the count - allege that
the RSU moved rough sleepers off the streets for a single night, threatened
others with arrest if they refused to go to hostels, and falsified results.
Casey, the homelessness tsar, denied all the allegations yesterday.
Burke, chairman of the Simon Community charity, said: "We believe that the
public and agencies who are dealing with this issue are being totally misled and
deceived by the RSU... A number of clients say they were told in no uncertain
terms that if they did not get into shelters they would be arrested. What they
did on that night is abominable." Mr Burke added that an outreach worker
had told him that results had been falsified.
outreach worker, who asked not to be named because his organisation is funded by
the RSU, said: "They manipulated the figures of the official count and then
went out and moved more people to come up with their figures." He claimed
they had also encouraged the teams which carry out the count to
spokesman for the Metropolitan police said he could not comment, but another
homelessness worker claimed that police had been arresting people overnight and
releasing them after the count.
Department of the Environment and Local Government (2000), Homelessness
– An Integrated Strategy (
Fahy & Watson(1995), An Analysis of Social Housing Need, (
O’Sullivan, E. (1996), Homelessness and Social Policy in the
Southern Health Board (2001), press release re the