Housing rules preventing homeless mothers from reuniting with children, committee told

Housing rules preventing homeless mothers from reuniting with children, committee told

Homeless mothers are being prevented from getting their children back because local authorities will not allocate them homes with two bedrooms, the Oireachtas housing committee has heard.

Levels of suicidal ideation and self harm among women in one Dublin homelessness service in recent months were “staggering”, the committee heard.

Una Burns, head of communications and policy with the Novas homelessness charity, said that between last April and last month staff intervened “on 26 occasions” where suicide attempts were already advanced.

She said staff carried equipment at all times to interrupt suicides and that while they were trained “the trauma of these experiences in our services is unparalleled”.

“It is fair to assume that the death rate among the homeless women we support would have been far higher in 2021, but for the interventions of our frontline staff,” she said.

Among the most traumatising experiences for homeless mothers in the Novas services was not being able to reunite with children.

“If a client doesn’t have the primary care of their children they are not entitled to more than a one-bed unit of accommodation…Because they cannot access, or have no hope of accessing a two-bed unit, social workers cannot recommend reunification of the parent and his or her child/children…It is a vicious cycle,” Ms Burns said.

‘Overriding motive’

“More discretion is required in the type of properties single people with children are entitled to. Reunification can be the overriding motive for the women who live in our services to recover from addiction and homelessness.

“Currently it is incredibly rare for homeless women whose children are in care, to regain access, despite their immense efforts.”

Organisations told the committee there had been a “new wave” of homelessness since the moratorium on evictions and rent freezes, introduced during stringent Covid-19 restrictions, had been lifted.

Pat Dennigan, chief executive of Focus Ireland, said “entirely avoidable evictions” were increasing due to a widening gap between market rents and Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) rates, which were last reviewed in 2016.

“HAP tenant are attempting to close this gap from their already inadequate income of wages or social welfare.”

Wayne Stanley, head of policy with the Simon communities, said: “The level of topping up is really endemic and, when combined with the inflation on things like bread and milk, people are really being forced into homelessness”.

Read More