Lost and Left Behind: The Ongoing Struggle with Homelessness in Ireland

by Alla Pavlutska

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Homelessness is an issue that has been plaguing many countries around the world, and Ireland is no exception. Despite efforts by various organisations, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the country has continued to rise. In March 2023, a new report was released that shed light on the current state of homelessness in Ireland. TheCity will explore the key findings of the report, the factors contributing to the issue, and the measures being taken to address it. It will also delve into the lived experiences of those affected by homelessness and the impact it has on their lives.

According to the latest report from the Department of Housing, the number of people accessing emergency accommodation in the country decreased slightly in February to 11,742 – a drop of 12 individuals compared to the previous month. However, it was a 23% increase over a year – from 9,492 in February 2022. 

A total of 8,369 adults and 3,373 children were living in emergency accommodation during the week of 20 to 26 February. There were 1,599 families, of which 876 (55 per cent) were headed by single parents.

The figure includes 5,057 Irish citizens, 1,862 European Economic Area / UK citizens and 1,450 non-EEA citizens. 

“In Dublin, where over 70% of the homeless population reside, the number of people in emergency accommodation actually increased in February 2023,” says Caoimhe O’Connell, spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community.

She explains that the reason for this is a lack of supply. As people continue to fall into homelessness, fewer and fewer are exiting, causing a blockade in the emergency accommodation system.

“People are spending longer than ever before stuck in emergency accommodation due to the chronic lack of social and affordable housing, which is robbing people of their futures as sustained periods in emergency accommodation negatively impact the physical and mental health,” she says.

Kenny Eivers, a Secret Street Tours guide who spent a decade living on the streets of Dublin, is convinced that the statistics are inaccurate and that the number of homeless people is higher than reported.

“The government is not doing much [to solve this problem],” he claims. “They’re building new hotels and offices, but they’re not building apartments that people can afford. You won’t be able to pay three and a half grand a month to rent a two-bedroom apartment. It’s crazy.

“I think we need to look at Norway and Finland. These countries have a lot better [fight homelessness] strategy. Whereas over here, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

Housing for All

Despite Mr Eivers’ criticism, the Housing for All plan launched in September 2021 reveals that measures have been put in place to deal with the homelessness crisis. The plan aims to ensure that everyone in Ireland has access to a secure and affordable home and has set a target of delivering 300,000 new homes by 2030.

The latest report shows that over 20,000 new social houses were built for the first three quarters of 2022. Furthermore, the building commenced on almost 21,000 between January and September last year.

Eviction ban

An eviction ban was in place during the winter emergency period from 30 October 2022 to 31 March 2023. It had been introduced as a temporary measure to provide relief for renters and homeless services. However, a bill aimed at extending this ban until 31 January 2024 was rejected by the Government.  

One Man’s Journey to Overcoming Adversity

Kenny Eivers told TheCity that he had been struggling with addiction for a long time.

“I started off with alcohol at the age of 11,” he says. “I couldn’t stop, no matter what. If I took drugs, I just took more than everybody else. In my late teens, I found heroin. Eventually, when you’re on heroin, you either end up in homeless services or in prison.”

Subsequently, the latter happened to him. However, he is sure that it saved his life.

“If I hadn’t ended up in prison, I would have been dead. That’s how some of us survive. It’s crazy because you don’t really do drugs there. You just eat healthily and go to the gym.”

There are people, though, who “did not make it to prison”. This is what Mr Eivers remembers about the worst day of his life.

“It happened around 14 years ago. I was in a hostel. My friend and I bought heroin and used it. Then I woke up, and he didn’t. He overdosed.”

However, serving time in prison had an unfortunate consequence. Upon his release, Mr Eivers found himself without a place to call home, effectively rendering him homeless.

“I kept on overdosing all the time, purposely trying to kill myself, and then I kept on being found by paramedics. The last time it happened, I woke up in Beaumont Hospital. There was a guy in the bed next to me, who was dying of cancer. He had a breathing machine. I was left lying there for about six hours. Basically, I was listening to his last breaths, and something inside my head just clicked and said I couldn’t go on like this. It was my rock bottom. I decided there that I would change.”

It was a long journey for Mr Eivers. He had to recover, put in a lot of effort to improve himself, and practice before he eventually became a guide. Currently, he provides tours, using his own past experiences of being homeless to bring attention to the issue.

Root Causes of Homelessness

There are various reasons why people have nowhere to live. According to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, the most popular are:

  • Shortage of housing supply
  • Low income
  • Unemployment
  • Mental health problems
  • Addiction

Words You Should Never Say

“I’ve experienced when people asked me, ‘Why don’t you go out and steal?’” says Mr Eivers. “I’ve spent years robbing and stealing, and I don’t want to go back to prison again.”

You don’t look homeless

“I was begging, and a guy came up to me and went, ‘Why are you doing that? You have a pair of €250 runners [Nike Air Max].’ I said these runners were given to me. I didn’t avoid them, and they’re actually fake.”

Why don’t you stay in a shelter?

“Sometimes it’s safer on the streets than in a hostel. You can have ten people in a room. Then, you wake up, and your stuff is gone. You get robbed or even beaten up.”  

Get a job

“People think we’re all the same. But they don’t know that some people who are homeless were abused as kids and have childhood trauma, addiction, or mental health issues. You can’t just get a job if you have mental health issues. You need to work on yourself. It’s not straightforward.”

How to Interact with People Experiencing Homelessness

There are a lot of stereotypes about people affected by homelessness. However, Kenny Eivers says they can be the nicest people you’ve ever met. “Some are very good artists, musicians, painters, rappers,” he says. “You can offer to buy them coffee, tea or cigarettes. If you don’t have money, just be polite. You don’t even have to say words, only acknowledge and smile. A smile makes someone’s day.”

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