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Hidden Youth Homelessness in Tipperary

Moira runs a Youth Employment project in Tipperary town, supporting young people aged 18 to 24 to find training, education and employment and helping them to remove barriers preventing them from engaging in opportunities.

I deal with the issue of homelessness and support young people in desperate need of housing every day. That may seem surprising to many people, considering I work with such a specific cohort in a small town. I myself would not have imagined that it would become such an integral part of my work but sadly the truth is that many young people today lack a secure, safe and stable place to live.

Unfortunately, there have been a few of my project participants who have had to endure periods of sleeping rough over the past few years. ‘Rough sleeping’ is the term used to describe what we traditionally considered to be ‘homeless’- someone sleeping outside, in a tent or car or in abandoned buildings. This is something which once was considered a problem solely confined to cities, but sadly it is not. This is happening in rural locations and small towns across the country. It is a situation which robs people of their sense of pride, safety and control. Something which no one should have to face.

What is more frequent however is young people who are experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’. These are individuals who have no place to call home, and are often ‘couch surfing’, staying with family and friends as they have nowhere permanent to go.

This can become such a tough situation to get out of. Many family members or friends who let them stay can’t put them on their lease or add them to their council rent book as it is not permitted to have any more people live in the residence. So they remain unaccounted for. Young people in receipt of Job Seeker’s Allowance or other benefits fear notifying social welfare as it may affect their payment or the payment of those they are staying with. They can’t risk a delayed payment so they never change their address, leading to missing post and appointments and risking sanctions.

It can be incredibly challenging to work or attend a course if you have nowhere consistent to stay. If you are sleeping on a couch, you cannot go to sleep until everyone else in the household does. You have nowhere to properly store belongings or clothes. Nowhere to study. Applying for Housing Assistance can be daunting without someone to give them practical support. And even once they have made the application, and waited through the assessment period which can take weeks or months, they are then approved for Housing Assistance Payment which means that the County Council will pay a portion of their rent in private accommodation. It is then left to the young person to find a place. This is such a difficult thing to do in the current market. There are simply not enough houses to go around. There are very few one bedroom properties and most are priced much higher than would be affordable to the young person.

Some positive steps have been made to address the situation- the addition of Homelessness Prevention Officers, a HAP Place Finder and the Housing First programme have been welcome additions to the housing department. In the last few months, changes to social welfare policy means that a young person’s reduced payment of €112 can be increased to €203 once they are living independently and in receipt of HAP. The real issue is that we need more social housing and wrap around supports in this country so that these young people are not left to fend for themselves in the private rental sector. At the end of last year, I became part of the Housing Policy Committee in order to help to give these individuals a voice where those who make the key decisions can hear it.

Through these challenges, what astounds me is the resilience and positivity shown by these young people. They are committed to making things better for themselves, they show such gratitude for

those who help them when they are in need and they are motivated and open to opportunities. They also manage to keep up a sense of humour. I’ll never forget when one of the lads had slept rough the night before, he had a sleeping bag and managed to find a quiet wooded spot to lay his head. He was delighted that he had slept a full 8 hours for once and was poking fun at me when I told him I had been kept up all night by a teething toddler. He thought it was hilarious that he’d had a better night sleep than me and we had a good laugh about it! Those moments of light-heartedness are astonishing considering the dark times that these young people face.

The ‘hidden homeless’ deserve a voice- so here are some of their stories.

‘It’s hard enough not having a proper place to live, but the feeling of being ignored makes it so much worse. I have been approved for HAP for months now but I can’t find a place. Loads of times landlords and letting agents won’t even get back to me. I ring the Council all the time but most of the time I don’t get through to anyone who can help or they don’t reply to my emails or return my calls. My youth worker and a local councillor have been really helpful. But a lot of the time I feel like no one cares and I’m not a priorty.’ K, aged 20

‘Homelessness can happen to anyone. I never thought that I would have had to sleep out all night but things at home just fell apart. It was in the middle of lockdown so I really had nowhere to go. I thought there’d be a hostel or somewhere like that but there wasn’t. Thankfully I got help quickly from the Homelessness Prevention Officer and found somewhere to live. But it was a really scary time.’ E, age 19

‘My mam kicked me out. I am off the drink for months now after going to rehab. But there’s still a lot of bad stuff that happened with my family over the years and we still argue about that. I went to the Council office in Clonmel to tell them I was homeless. They said they couldn’t offer me emergency accommodation. The woman there asked me could I not stay with my dad, or with my aunts or with my sister. It was horrible having to say the reasons I can’t stay with them. It’s so hard to make a proper go of things when I can’t find a place of my own.’ Anon

‘I got evicted so I wasn’t able to get any housing support for over a year. I was arguing with my landlord about fixing the place up because it was in an awful state and he wasn’t listening. I didn’t know who to go to for help. He ended up kicking me out. I have been sleeping on a couch ever since. I don’t have any privacy and sometimes I feel like I am going to crack up. I’ve stayed on a CE scheme the whole time but it’s been really hard to keep any kind of routine. Sometimes I go sleep during the day just so I can have a bed while the others are at school or gone to work’ Anon