Rural homelessness remains a hidden problem.

Less prominent counties seem to be struggling the most with homelessness.

Less prominent counties seem to be struggling the most with homelessness. This is mainly due to insufficient services outside of cities.

Homelessness rates in cities and towns remain high, for example, according to Focus Ireland, Dublin has 29,698 households on the social housing waiting list. For other counties, the rate is lower. Neighbouring county Meath has 1,715 households waiting.

Of course, most of the focus remains on these cities because of the high rates, however, homeless people feel the need to migrate to Dublin because of the services. Most homeless services in rural Ireland are not 24hrs and 9-5, Monday-Friday. What happens if somebody becomes homeless on a Friday of a bank holiday weekend? Nothing happens. They are left to wait on the streets until offices re-open the following Tuesday.

Councillor Alan Lawes from Johnstown, Co. Meath has constantly brought this matter up at county council meetings. He believes charities are doing the work of the government. Lawes describes these charities to be “filling the cracks in the system”.

Louth county councillor, for the Drogheda constituency, Joanna Byrne said there is still a need for more “wet facilities”. For example, Drogheda Homeless Aid is a dry facility, meaning those addicted to drugs and alcohol can not avail of the service. The service is also only for males. Those that get rejected from this charity, do not want to leave their constituency to avail of help elsewhere. “They could have family or friends in the area, so it’s obvious why they don’t want to leave,” Byrne said. These people remain homeless, and Byrne said she “could tell you the name of every homeless person in Drogheda”. Due to a shortage of facilities in rural Ireland, people are forced to leave their areas.

County councils do help to house people in their area, however, there are major barriers here. You must be originally from the county to avail of this accommodation, and it is not always definite due to high demand. There is also a lot of processing before emergency accommodation is given. An assessment must take place. It includes establishing accommodation history, establishing a reason for homelessness, eligibility for settlement services or emergency accommodation, establishing support needs and establishing if you are registered or eligible to register with a local authority for social housing support. This is simply not good enough for emergencies.

In an opening statement from the Simon Communities in Ireland to the Oireachtas Committee, they addressed the cause of homelessness stating that “The expansion of counselling services to primary care facilities would allow people with mental health needs to get the right healthcare intervention at the right time, reducing the need to access more acute/crisis mental health services. This would have a significant impact on those experiencing homeless and those at risk of homelessness.”.

The Simon Communities Review of Rural Homelessness ‘Left Out in the Cold’ found there is often a misperception that homelessness doesn’t exist in rural communities. There is a huge need for more representation for the vulnerable of our society. The expansion of counselling services should be throughout Ireland and not just focused on certain areas.

Hostels and homeless beds can be traumatising. Young people entering homelessness are left to witness many people abusing substances, due to mental health problems. It just leads to worsening their situation. These people need to be protected.

Louise Hickey.