We are experiencing a critical housing crisis right across Ireland, with the number of homeless people and families on social housing waiting lists growing rapidly. At the beginning of this year, there were over 4,000 families on the social housing waiting list in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown alone, and as new figures just out staggering increases in rent in Dublin, that number is guaranteed to rise.
While this housing crisis is an urgent one that affects our communities on many levels, one particular aspect that it is vital for us to understand is the impact housing can and is having on the lives of our children. There are several major and unacceptable ways in which bad housing situations –overcrowding, temporary accommodation, or homelessness – affect children.
Studies carried out across the world show that children who are homeless or living in poor housing are much more likely to experience illness and health problems that can stay with them into later life. Mental health is naturally affected by stress and environment, and homeless children are at risk of developing mental health issues like anxiety. Crucially, in terms of children’s education and learning, the disruption caused by homelessness or temporary accommodation can mean more than missing days at school. Living in situations where play is not possible, where access to schooling is difficult, and where children can feel isolated, can put children at a serious disadvantage in terms of their ability to learn, and their chances to develop essential skills. Without space or resources to do homework, children can fall behind. These barriers to learning can have a long-term impact on a child or young person’s progress in school, and indeed on their future in terms of further education and work.
The long-term impact for a child of homelessness or bad housing is something that is having consequences not just for parents and families, but for our whole community. There are NGOs and champions like Peter McVerry that have been doing heroic work in this area, but we need to make a systemic change right now.
We drastically need all government departments and agencies with responsibilities for children’s well-being to come together and work with local authorities to put a truly co-ordinated plan into action. This way, we can act immediately to support families that are at risk of homelessness before it happens, address our social housing waiting lists, tackle rising rents and create a sustainable housing plan for our community.
We must also act to support children and parents who are currently homeless, to ensure children are receiving the extra help they may need before their futures are jeopardised. It is unacceptable that families are forced to live in hostels, in situations where parents simply cannot provide the conditions that their children need to grow up happy and healthy. We must do more. Every child deserves a home and foundations for their future.