As of April 2019, the number of homeless persons in Ireland reached 10,378. Of this, there are currently 1,733 families and 3,821 children languishing in homelessness. This means that one in every three people who are homeless in Ireland is a child. Furthermore, there are 903 individuals who are counted as youths aged 18 to 24. This figure excludes persons who are sleeping rough, people who are couch surfing, homeless people in hospitals and prisons, those in direct provision centres, and homeless households who access domestic violence refuges or persons who are not engaging with the local authority regarding their homelessness. Within the housing crisis itself, there are a number of issues which are rampant. Items such as the institutionalisation of homelessness in Ireland through the use of hubs, the hotelisation of homelessness in Ireland, access to emergency accommodation, refusals of access to the housing list and many more. Each of which will be explored in further posts.
Where does this all stem from?
A large part of the homeless crisis in Ireland stems from the lack of stock and supply of social housing. Compared to most other European countries, the concept of social housing in Ireland is small. Tacked on with the fact that the role of social housing in Ireland has changed substantially, evolving from an assets-based model to a model of welfare housing which is most common in other western countries. Nonetheless, policy makers have struggled to address the implications of this shift, therefore as a result, the boundaries between social housing, private rented and home ownership in Ireland have become increasingly tenuous. The Housing Act, 1988 is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be reformed. We as a wider society have created the stigma surrounding social housing in Ireland. Historically, Ireland has treated housing as a ‘wealth accumulator asset’, rather than a basic human right. This coupled with the marketisation and privatisation of social housing delivery and public land and the overreliance of an insecure private rented sector is what has allowed this crisis to occur and deepen over time.
There are real solutions which can be implemented. The first step would be establishing a right to housing, either through statute or the Constitution. This would not provide the key to a door for all but rather would provide a basic floor of protection for those who are most vulnerable in Irish society. The right to housing is recognised in Europe in the Constitutions of Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and in the legislation of Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom. The right to adequate housing is provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the European Social Charter.
In a nutshell, the concept is not new!
Position in Irish Law
Currently, within Irish law, there is no express right to housing. Therefore the basis for protecting the right to housing in Ireland arises from the infringement of other Constitutional rights such as:
- Right to bodily integrity
- Right to privacy
- Right to life
- Right to dignity and autonomy
- Right to equal treatment etc.
Within legislation exists some substantive and procedural rights in relation to housing – these are all mainly set out in the Housing Acts 1966-2014 and related housing regulations. These contain certain rights and duties in relation to social housing in Ireland and include items such as:
- The right to apply for social housing assistance and to be assessed;
- The duty of a local authority to make an assessment of housing need;
- The duty of a local authority to provide and operate an allocation scheme for social housing;
- To provide for the accommodation needs of people who are homeless.
Just because these duties exist does not oblige a local authority to provide housing in individual cases nor provide emergency accommodation when a person presents as homeless. Aside from social housing, there also exists a number of legislative protections in relation to private rented.
As outlined above, the current protection of the right to housing in Irish law is minimal. The serious inadequacy of this law is clear given the stark numbers affected by the crisis. The number continues to rise on a monthly basis. The right to a home is not a privilege, it is a basic human right in which every human being should be afforded. A home is central to the dignity and development of each and every person. It is a right that has, can and should be progressively realised within a society.