By Aoife Burke
With World Homeless Day taking place last week, SIN’s Aoife Burke looks at the epidemic of homelessness in Galway city.
According to RTE news, in 2019 the number of households experiencing homelessness in Galway has risen by 20%, as revealed in figures from homeless charity Cope.
On August 4th 2018, the Connacht Tribune published an article on homelessness, stating that the statistics were just the tip of the iceberg. Cope Galway had blasted official government figures as inaccurate, citing that they did not include the “hidden homeless”, such as people couch surfing, travellers living on unauthorised sites and people in transitional homes owned by local charities.
This was reaffirmed when Meaghan Hynes of the Simon Community spoke to SIN; “Homelessness has no boundaries, anyone could end up homeless. In recent years, we have seen more and more families and young people becoming homeless. So far this year (from January to August), 138 families have been supported by Galway Simon Community, which includes 342 children. This is a 50% increase on the same period in 2018. Unfortunately, the homelessness and housing crisis can cause people of all ages and all walks of life to become homeless, through no fault of their own”.
People become homeless for a variety of different reasons. For many, homelessness is the result of a brief crisis in their lives. With the right supports, they can be assisted out of homelessness quickly, rapidly accessing alternative housing. Generally, the experiences that lead to homelessness are underpinned by poverty and structural inequality.
Meaghan explains that causes of homelessness tend to be defined into four categories:
- 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 and has made more people vulnerable.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 a job and inability to pay mortgage/rent.
“Generally it is a combination of these factors that result in a person becoming homeless. However, the lack of affordable housing is the biggest factor causing people to become homeless at the moment”, Meaghan told SIN.
“With such low rates of new housing coming on stream in Galway, demand is outstripping supply, and the cost of renting is rising steeply. Many people are being forced out of the market due to these rising rents, as well as evictions due to landlords selling, and they are being left with no other affordable options”.
The head office of Galway’s Simon Community is based on the Tuam Road in Galway City. However, there are other locations around Galway City and County consisting of homelessness prevention services and various housing services.
Meaghan offered the following advice for students of NUI Galway; “There are many different ways to make a difference to those facing homelessness in your local community: by speaking out about the issue of homelessness, whether it’s to your local politicians, through debates or online, awareness and advocacy can have a big impact. Other more direct ways to make a difference include fundraising and volunteering. Whether it’s hosting a simple bake sale, or volunteering a couple of hours a week, your support can make a difference”.