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Lower homeless figures need further analysis, says Focus Ireland

By Ann Marie Foley - 20 February, 2020

At least some of the fall in the number of those who are homeless can be attributed to people returning to their family home at Christmas.

This is according to Focus Ireland, which commented that there was an “unprecedented drop” in the number of people recorded as accessing emergency accommodation during the Christmas week according to data published in the lead-up to the election.

“A fall in family homelessness had been expected in December, as there is an established seasonal pattern of fewer families entering homelessness, with some families temporarily staying with friends or families at Christmas time. But the fall in December 2019 was much greater than expected,” stated Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy, Focus Ireland, in a blog.

He added that the next figures, due to be published later in February, will be needed to give a complete understanding as to whether the drop in homelessness is a “blip” or a more sustained trend.

Separately, in her keynote address at the UN Commission for Social Development in New York, former President of Ireland Dr Mary McAleese said “in the month before the national election held last week, for the first time, the homelessness figures showed a slight drop”.

The former president told the UN conference on homelessness that “it would be a brave person” who would claim that “we are now on top of the situation and can look forward soon to an end to homelessness”.

In its blog Focus Ireland said the data shows that the overall number of people in emergency accommodation dropped by 717 between November and December 2019. There were month-on-month decreases across all demographic and accommodation categories represented in the Department of Housing’s reports.

From November to December 2019, the fall in the number of children in families who were homeless was the highest recorded, dropping by 330 nationally, with 229 of these families in Dublin.

Because the drop in family homelessness was expected, Focus Ireland stated that the fall in the number of homeless single adults without children was “the most notable drop”.

In previous years, the number of single adults who are homeless has risen during December, but this total sharply declined by 180 people in December 2019. (Dublin accounted for 101 of this total.)

“The number of single adults homeless dropped and this was the main reason for the dramatic fall in the overall total number of people who were homeless in December 2019,” the writer stated.

Single adults often avail of temporary “cold weather” accommodation, which is provided to reduce the number of people who are rough sleeping or squatting in unsafe places during the cold weather. However, the writer states that it really is impossible at this stage to fully understand the factors that resulted in the sudden decline in single adult homelessness in December 2019. This is not a reason to assume it is just “a blip”, as the December 2019 decline was the first since 2014 where there has not been an annual increase in the number of people in emergency accommodation.

Focus Ireland cautioned that there is ongoing heavy reliance on HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) and the private rental market to facilitate exits out of emergency accommodation. HAP tenancies are not permanent social homes and tenants remain at risk from the same market forces which first fueled the housing crisis.

“The number of people exiting into local authority or approved housing body lettings remains comparatively low and has not increased significantly in 2019, despite an increase in housing unit completions,” stated the writer.

He concluded that once the homeless figures for January 2020 are available at the end of February there may be better insight as to whether the many “small positive factors will continue to grow and whether the more dramatic shifts will reverse or not.”

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