Homelessness in the North West

Homelessness in the North West is largely hidden, so very often people may be reluctant to identify that they are either at risk or experiencing homelessness, and not consider seeking the supports that they need.

In large urban areas, there is a level of visible homelessness with people seen sleeping on the street, or entering clearly signposted emergency hostels or shelters. Knowing that services exist is key to people looking for support at the early stages of a crisis. In the North West, the only visible emergency accommodation for people at risk or experiencing homelessness is located in Sligo and Letterkenny. In other areas, the county councils, provide emergency accommodation in B&B’s Tourist Hostels, Hotels etc. but this provision is mostly unseen.

If it appears there is nowhere else to go, homelessness can mean remaining in unfit, overcrowded, or unaffordable accommodation, moving in with friends and relatives, couch surfing, staying in tourist hostels, holiday camps, or sleeping in cars or tents. Finding and supporting people at risk of homelessness therefore presents a range of challenges that in the North West Simon Community seek to address through its regional services.

Who Can Be Affected

There are many reasons why a person becomes homeless; in the Simon Communities of Ireland, we deal with them all while working with up to 18,000 people every year.

While it could happen to any of us, generally the experiences that lead to homelessness are underpinned by poverty and structural inequality, and those with lower levels of education, housing, and income, are most at risk. Causes tend to be divided into the following:

Structural Causes

These can include poverty, unemployment, and lack of good quality, affordable housing. More people are now at risk of becoming homeless as a result of the financial crisis which has impacted on the most vulnerable in society more than any other section of the population. More people are now experiencing poverty and it is becoming more difficult for people to get out of poverty.

Lack of affordable housing and barriers preventing people accessing housing in the private rental sector has made it more difficult to secure accommodation. This is not only causing homelessness it is also preventing people from leaving homelessness.

Personal Causes

This can include mental illness, learning difficulties, problematic alcohol or/and drug use. If a person has one or more of these problems, they may find it difficult to manage the home they are in or it may lead to other problems such as losing job and inability to pay mortgage/rent or relationship breakdown and have to leave the home.

Most often, it is the occurrence of a combination of these factors at the same time that result in a person becoming homeless. For example, if someone lost their job and their relationship broke down, they may have to leave the family home but not be able to afford to rent alternative accommodation.

Institutional Causes

People who have lived in foster care and young people leaving care are at high risk of becoming homeless. Also people leaving prison or mental health institutions with nowhere to go to on their release/discharge can end up homeless.

Services need to ensure that when people are leaving institutional care that they have a place to go.

Relationship Causes

This can include an abusive relationship or family breakdown. Either way, one or more people may need to leave the home and may have nowhere to go.

Death in a family can also be a cause of homelessness as the person may not be able to afford accommodation on one income.