JUNE TINSLEY says the housing crisis is causing massive problems for children and that they feel all the stress that adults do.
One of the scariest outcomes of the housing crisis has been the impact on children. The latest Department of Housing figures reveal that more than 1,100 families are homeless, including a staggering 2,363 children. That’s 2,363 children who do not have a safe and secure spot to sleep tonight. For more than two years this figure has steadily increased and, as yet, there is no suggestion that this upward trend is going to be reversed any time soon.
Children need a safe, warm and secure place to call home. Inadequate, unsafe or insecure housing has serious repercussions, affecting a child’s mental and physical health, social and emotional development, education and their key relationships. There is no question that this is a serious crisis and that children are the most vulnerable victims.
“We have lots of children living in appalling conditions. We have a number of families that are in really poor private rented housing and they are scared to do anything about it in case they are asked to leave.”
Hotels are not homes
Many families are living up to a year in hotels, B&Bs or in other forms of emergency accommodation. Often they are being moved between locations, sometimes not knowing where they’ll be sent to from one week to the next. Emergency accommodation is often miles away from children’s communities, meaning they spend hours travelling to school and become isolated from their support networks. This is incredibly disruptive and only adds to the already incredible stress families are under. Living in one room, sharing beds with siblings and parents, no space to do homework, cook food, do laundry or store belongings, and strict curfews all have a profound negative impact on a child’s development.
Hidden housing crisis
While the focus has rightly been on the seemingly unending rise in homelessness, Barnardos has also seen many hundreds more families face deplorable conditions in temporary and often private rented accommodation. This ‘hidden housing crisis’ is affecting thousands of families in Ireland who are living in substandard, overcrowded or unsafe accommodation, unable to move or demand better because they have no other options. It is not uncommon for us to hear of parents being forced to cram into small homes with extended family.
One such example from a Barnardos project is a family of five adults, two teenagers and four small children living in a two bedroomed house. Worryingly, we are increasingly seeing poor housing conditions as a central factor in instances of domestic abuse and family breakdown. One Barnardos project worker said: “We have lots of children living in appalling conditions. We have a number of families that are in really poor private rented housing and they are scared to do anything about it in case they are asked to leave. We also have families living with extended family in really overcrowded conditions and this is affecting the children very badly. Whatever the parents are feeling the kids feel it too. The stress families are under is just untenable”.
Lack of maintenance
Another widespread problem is families afraid to complain to their landlord when their homes need repair or general maintenance. Broken windows, doors and locks, damp and mould, faulty heating and vermin infestations are common issues faced by tenants. There have been no policy changes to address these issues, meaning that children and families continue to silently shoulder the hidden burden of the housing crisis.
One Barnardos project worker stated: “I was visiting a family when I noticed a rat crawling on the kitchen counter. The family had nowhere else to go and were too scared of a rent increase or eviction to complain to their landlord”.
Head of Advocacy for Barnardos Ireland.