Andrew Connors is starting to worry, he says.
He has been homeless with his wife and five children for two years and eight months. But when he calls South Dublin County Council, staff tell him it will be many more years before the family is housed, he says.
“Every time I call the council they tell me eight to 10 and 12,” he says. “Some of them tell me 15 years.”
He doesn’t know if they’re serious about the delay, he says, or if they’re trying to force him to move to another county.
He cannot imagine a family surviving for so long in homeless accommodation, especially a family of seven living in one room.
Council workers tell him that a rental, with the help of the Housing Assistance Payment, is the best way to go, but it’s really hard to find one, he says.
A mobile home would also be a step forward, Connors says, if he could find a place where he was allowed to put one up.
Long stays in homeless accommodation seriously harm the physical and mental health and development of children, according to a study conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman and Temple Street Children’s Hospital.
Connors’ family is one of 153 families in the Dublin area who have been in shelters and centers for the homeless for more than two years, according to April data from DRHE.
The Housing Act 1988 should be amended “to limit the time families and vulnerable individuals can spend in emergency homelessness accommodation”, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Homelessness has recommended. families and children in November 2019.
But that hasn’t happened and – while figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) suggest the percentage of families waiting more than two years has fallen – some, like Connors, have long passed that threshold and don’t have no idea how long it will be until they finally have a home.
Stuck in homeless housing
The Connors family are in a B&B on Gardiner Street in Dublin city centre, but the older children go to school in Tallaght. This puts a strain on Connors, and especially his wife, he says.
His wife gets up very early to drive the children to school, then she returns to the downtown traffic to spend some time with the youngest, before hitting the road again to pick up the older ones.
“There is no break at all,” he says. “It’s a full-time job.”
They spend a lot of time on the road and often miss meals at the hostel because of it, he says.
Seven people all living in one room is also a challenge. “I’ve been there almost three years now and there’s a lot of pressure,” he said.
“If we were closer to Tallaght we could come back and have a bite to eat and then pick up the kids,” he says.
The impact of even short stays in emergency accommodation on the health and development of children is well documented.
Between October 2018 and January 2019, children in homeless shelters told the Children’s Ombudsman they felt trapped by the lack of space, and others said they wanted to run away.
“Hannah (8) cried and told us the Hub was ‘like a prison for children,'” the No Place Like Home report said.
“She expressed extreme concern and fear for her younger brother Niall (5) who had tried to run away from the Hub on several occasions,” he said.
Family centers are supposed to be better than bed and breakfasts, but Connors doesn’t know what type of accommodation he’s in. I think it’s a hostel.
The council told him there would be better facilities for children, but there are fewer play facilities compared to the B&B he was staying in, he said, which had an outdoor play area.
“I don’t find it better,” he said. “There is nothing at all for children, there is no playground.”
Living in these conditions weighs heavily on the children.
In January 2019, Temple Street Children’s University Hospital reported that 842 children who had attended the hospital’s emergency department in the previous year had no fixed address.
“Their presentations are varied and complex, but the majority stem from the fact that these children live in totally inadequate, cramped and temporary housing,” says the Temple Street Children’s Hospital Report.
In the same year, the Mercy Law Resource Center said it had “observed vulnerable families stuck in emergency accommodation for long periods of time, as they face particular difficulties in accessing private rental accommodation”.
It’s a source of frustration for Connors that council staff repeatedly tell him to search for properties to let with HAP, he says, when he knows most landlords won’t accept it.
South Dublin County Council did not respond directly to questions about whether staff were aware travelers face discrimination when trying to access private rental accommodation.
An approximate time
South Dublin County Council did not respond to a question about how long it would take for a family to be housed, who joined the list around the same time they became homeless.
In May 2022, there were 6,429 households on the social housing list and 489 of those households were registered as homeless, a South Dublin County Council spokesperson said.
In 2021, South Dublin County Council allocated 749 homes, including 170 to priority homeless households, she says.
At this rate, it would take around three years on average to clear households registered as homeless, if no one else joins, but every family’s situation is different.
Dublin City Council advises housing seekers of their place on the housing list, but South Dublin County Council does not.
Connors knows he’s on the priority list, which is shorter than the main list, but he has no idea how many others are ahead of him.
He joined the South Dublin County Council social housing list around the same time he became homeless, he says, two years and eight months ago.
But many other families were already on the list before they became homeless, so some of those who entered emergency accommodation after him can expect to be housed sooner.
“They allocate about a quarter of the properties to the homeless,” says People Before Profit adviser Madeleine Johansson.
Homeless households can also apply for properties through choice-based rentals, she says.
For people who aren’t homeless, the average wait is about 10 years for a house, she says, but she doesn’t think a homeless family would wait that long.
“If they continue to be in emergency accommodation, they should be accommodated before that,” says Johansson.
In January 2022, there were 821 families in emergency accommodation in the Dublin area and 21% of them (173) had been homeless for more than two years, the DRHE monthly report says. The report does not detail more than two years that these families have been waiting.
“There has been a reduction in outings to all rental types but particularly to HAP,” the January 2022 report said.
“The DRHE will undertake research to examine duration and exits and, in particular, to examine whether factors such as ineligibility for social housing, the size of large families or other factors affect the ability of families to leave homelessness,” he said.
The latest report from the DRHE, from April 2022, shows that 16% of homeless families, or 153 families, had been in emergency accommodation for more than two years.
The report says this reduction reflects “a concerted effort to target families experiencing long-term homelessness.”
Connors says he could relax a bit if he had an idea of how long he’ll be waiting. “Tallaght council doesn’t tell you, I think they should tell you,” he said.
In the meantime, a hostel closer to the children’s school would make a huge difference, he says.