Joe Finnerty

Higher Diploma in Social Policy  Joe Finnerty : Supplementary Notes, Dept of Applied Social Studies 2001-2002




·        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 definitions.

·        Legislation and policy in Ireland and the UK

·        2 copyright newspaper clippings re the Cork Homelessness Strategy and the politics of measuring homelessness (in the UK ).


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 occupation of,


(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 resources.

[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 sleeper’

·         the family fleeing domestic violence

·         the 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 UK than in Ireland .


There is a Rough Sleepers Unit in the UK : see the UK strategy in relation to this group, Coming in from the Cold at, and more generally at


Cork Simon have recently produced a report highlighting the links between youth homelessness, drugs and ill-health, Easing the Pain.



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.

The 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.

Homeless 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).

Three 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.

 Suppliers: Voluntary bodies operate accommodation for homeless people throughout the country; these include the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Simon Community (in Dublin , Cork , Galway and Dundalk ), the Salvation Army (several locations in Dublin ), the Iveagh Trust, Focus Ireland (in Dublin . In the Dublin area, Dublin Corporation and the Eastern Regional Health Authority also operate hostel accommodation.

There 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.

Accommodation for Victims of Domestic Violence
Health boards and voluntary bodies provide accommodation and services specifically for victims of domestic violence e.g. CuanLee in Cork

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 Dublin , the numbers placed in this type of accommodation had risen from 5 households in 1990 to 1,202 in 1999, costing over £5m. This kind of provision is supposed to be of an emergency kind: the fact that families may be there for extended periods has been heavily criticised both in Ireland and in the U.K. For Ireland , see

For the UK , see the report by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, (this file is in Adobe Acrobat): this is a discussion paper by the Bed and Breakfast Unit there on how to reduce the use of B&Bs in England .

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.


It 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’.


Scale of problem

Numbers homeless (official estimates)

Numbers homeless

1991     2,751

1993     2,667

1996     2,501

1999     5,234

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 reasonably occupy’.


The 1991 and 1993 findings by the DoELG were widely criticised.

Why the divergent estimates? One answer lies in ‘the politics of (measuring) homelessness.



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 year).


Criterion (1) utility

Where 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 situation;

Where 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.


Criterion (2) feasibility

·        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 housing list!

Transient households: Some local authorities didn’t count those staying in night shelters not from the area!

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 function.


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 statutory responsibilities).


1988 Housing Act

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 organisations


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) ( Dublin : DoELG) promises a more integrated, planned and client-oriented approach

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 Cork , its "Homelessness - An Integrated Strategy for Cork 2001-2003"

·        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 needs

·        Development of prevention strategies

·        Greater co-operation with voluntary agencies

·        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 transitional accommodation)


(Funding for the Cork homelessness plan has not been finalised, despite the £600,000 for homeless agencies announced by the health board. According to a spokesman for Cork Corporation, an approach for finance will be made to the Government later this year, once the exact needs have been identified.)


The most recent general policy statement in the UK , More Than A Roof, (along with other reports), is available online at




1 in 3 local authorities have no action plan for homelessness


cppyright Irish Independent 08:40 Wednesday December 19th 2001

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.







Labour wants resources for Cork homeless


By Olivia Kelleher copyright The Irish Times August 31, 2001

The new homelessness strategy needs to become more than a policy document to prevent further deaths among people living rough in Cork city, according to the Labour Party.

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 available.

"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 Ireland 's homeless problem isn't as bad as other places and could be solved."

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 Cork were systematically neglected over a period of months if not years.

"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 night."

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 Cork for people at the lower end of the market.



Rough sleepers unit 'is fixing figures' (copyright The Guardian newspaper)
Tania Branigan
Saturday November 24, 2001

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.

This 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.

Now 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.

Louise Casey, the homelessness tsar, denied all the allegations yesterday.

Philip 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.

Another 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 "reconsider" results.

A 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.

Additional Readings

Cork Planning Authorities (2001), Joint Housing Strategy


Department of the Environment and Local Government (2000), Homelessness – An Integrated Strategy ( Dublin : Department of the Environment and Local Government)


Fahy & Watson(1995), An Analysis of Social Housing Need, ( Dublin : ESRI) ch. 6 on measurement of homelessness.


O’Sullivan, E. (1996), Homelessness and Social Policy in the Republic of Ireland ( Trinity College , Department of Social Studies, Occasional Papers No. 5). Note that while the conceptual chapter is still relevant, policies and trends in relation to housing, poverty and unemployment are out of date.


Southern Health Board (2001), press release re the Cork Homeless Strategy