Despite being among the wealthiest countries in the world, Ireland has struggled to address its homelessness crisis. Since 2008, when the country encountered a difficult economic crisis that struck the housing market with rising rent prices and ceased construction efforts to expand housing, Ireland’s homeless population has only grown into a greater national problem. Protests have erupted across the country and the government has stepped in to address the housing crisis with its “Rebuilding Ireland” program designed to create additional housing units to protect people from homelessness. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness numbers are reflecting a decline that hasn’t been seen in years.
5 Things to Know About Homelessness in Ireland
- Lingering Effects of Ireland’s “Lost Decade”: Similar to the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S., Ireland had its own housing bubble which burst in 2008, setting off a decade-long housing crisis. With Ireland’s housing market dropped in price by 54%, the housing construction was forced to a standstill and Irish banks were swarmed with debt. The effects of the crisis dubbed this period of recession the “lost decade”—a time when rising rent costs turned many people to the streets, and unemployment and poverty rose. St. Vincent de Paul, the largest charity in Ireland which provides aid and shelter to the homeless, was fielding double their usual number of calls during the first two years after the crisis. More than a decade later, Ireland is still struggling to recover from the impacts of the housing crisis.
- Housing is Not Affordable: A report released by the Irish Homebuilders Association (IHBA) stated the time required for a potential homeowner to save a downpayment could take more than 15 years in some cities in Ireland, including Dublin and Galway. In fact, Dublin has become one of the most expensive cities in the world to pay rent. High rents that consume large portions of an individual’s income tied with limited housing availability are two factors that contribute to the challenges of saving for future home-ownership. Rising rent prices show no signs of slowing down, either, with a 17% rent increase predicted for the upcoming years. Although tenants may manage to pull together their monthly rents, homelessness does not elude all renters: The majority of people who become homeless previously lived in privately rented areas.
- Homelessness Rates Shows Signs of Declining Amid COVID-19: Homelessness has been rising for several years since the crisis, growing into a national concern and reality for many people in Ireland. However, recently homelessness numbers dropped to their lowest levels since 2017. In May 2020, it was reported that 8,876 people were affected by homelessness, the first time this number has fallen below 9,000 people in the last three years. This decrease is likely from the emergency accommodations recently implemented to support the most vulnerable of Ireland’s population during the pandemic. Throughout Ireland, 600 places were made available that would allow people to self-isolate and maintain social distancing. However, once COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland are lifted, it is possible these numbers could rise to even higher rates as housing construction projects are delayed even further.
- Young Adult Homelessness Rates are High: Young adults are one of the groups most impacted by the housing crisis In Ireland. According to Focus Ireland, an organization that helps young people out of homelessness, the number of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 afflicted by homelessness has increased by 31% since June 2015. But Focus Ireland also points out this figure is likely an underestimate. Official homelessness figures don’t account for the number of young people who seek out friends and family for a temporary place to stay rather than homeless shelters and services—“the forgotten homeless,” as Focus Ireland classifies this group. Young adults who grew up in the aftermath of the housing and financial crisis now face steep rents that hinder their abilities to save for buying a home, an emblem of adulthood.
- Ireland’s High Housing Demands: One of the root causes of homelessness in Ireland stems from the country’s inadequate supply of affordable housing. The percentage of households renting privately owned homes has doubled in demand over the past decade, limiting available housing and causing rent prices to climb. Construction efforts to build additional housing are not keeping up with demand either. In response, Ireland’s government installed the “Rebuilding Ireland” program in 2016, an initiative aimed at adding 25,000 housing units per year. According to the 2019 Housing Conference, the program met 74% of its 2018 annual target. However, Focus Ireland believes a solution to Ireland’s housing crisis resides in providing affordable public housing, which the country currently lacks. Public housing can give families and individuals burdened by high rents or eviction notices a humane and affordable option. Although housing, a personal right in Ireland, is slim, supporting the expansion of public housing could be the solution to actualizing this right and creating a stable future for all those who live in Ireland.
As reflected in Ireland’s recently reported figures, homelessness is on the decline. If the “Rebuilding Ireland” program fulfills its established mission of building additional housing, homelessness in Ireland could be combatted even further. Combined with Ireland’s successful response to sheltering the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness in Ireland is showing promising signs of being a resolved issue throughout the country.
– Grace Mayer