21 Jun
  • By Alison Martha Fagan

Levels of homelessness in Ireland and Europe

As of April 2018 at least “15 homeless people had been reported dead” (1) over the period of the previous seven months. Amongst them was Paul Sheahan who was 53 years old and was discovered dead on the streets in Cork City in the earliest hours of Sunday morning, 18th March 2018. Paul had been homeless for the majority of his adult life and had a severe alcohol addiction. Paul is not alone. There are several case studies just like him with the deepening crisis of homelessness in Ireland today. Indeed according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar between “40 and 50” people who are homeless die each year (2). In fact moreover the homeless crisis strengthening means there are more people homeless now than at any period in the state’s history. But what exactly is homelessness and what is the cause of it in the State? And what is its extent across Europe in comparison to Ireland?

The Housing Act of 1988 defines a person as homeless if (a) “there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of authority…can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of, or (b) he is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter…and he is in the opinion of authority, unable to provide accommodation from his own resources”. (3) Fundamentally a homeless person or someone who is at risk of homelessness is unable to provide themselves with somewhere secure or safe to live. But what causes a person to become homeless? As in the case study of Paul Sheahan a number of reasons contribute to homelessness these are such as family breakdown or drug or alcohol addiction. Furthermore the contributory factors to this complex issue can be broken down in to “structural factors…lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty….or personal factors….addictions, mental health issues” (4). But how is this crisis so prevalent and deepening in Ireland today?


It is due and has its root in a “broken housing system” (5). The fact is there is a lack in the provision of social housing in Ireland and this united with the building of private housing ground to a halt has resulted in more people needing to find a home in the private rented sector. Here there are increasing rent levels and a lack of places to rent (6). Fundamentally there is a lack of affordable public housing in Ireland today. Not only are families affected, but also children, single adults and young people. More and more families are becoming homeless and in March 2018, “1,720 families” accessed emergency accommodation including “3,646 children” (7). And in April 2018 the homeless figure stood at 9, 681 people who were accessing emergency accommodation (8). Homelessness is equally on the increase. Between July of 2014 and April 2018 there was an increase of “127%”. (9)

But why is having a home so imperative? Having a home that is safe and secure is classified as a fundamental human right which we are all entitled to. In fact the right to housing is one of United Nations human rights, “Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (10).  There is also the stigma and social isolation and marginalization of homeless people. Organisations such as the Alice Leahy Trust in Dublin work hard to reduce such social exclusion by providing a befriending, non-judgemental, social and health service for homeless people. It understands how language can define and determine a homeless person and aim to reduce this stigma by seeing the homeless person as a “person”. Basically their philosophy is to promote the message that “we need to be more aware of how we use language, to understand its power and to take into account its effect on people who are vulnerable”. (11)

Like the work of the Alice Leahy Trust we are going to great lengths to solve the homeless problem in Ireland, a total of “€96, 254, 326 million” was spent on providing homeless services across Dublin in 2016.  The funding estimate for 2017 was of an estimate of €20 million. Services like the Peter Mc Verrry trust and other voluntary bodies contribute their value equally also.


In other countries homelessness is at different levels. In France homelessness is an important social issue with its worst being in city areas such as Paris. Charity estimates “141, 000” individuals living without accommodation. (12). In Germany the issue is also highly significant with “335,000” homeless in 2014. However in comparison with Ireland, Germany classifies those sofa surfing or living in “unconventional dwellings as homeless”, Ireland does not. (13) A comparison therefore should not be made. Other countries such as The Netherlands and Sweden also should not compare with Ireland with different definitions surrounding homelessness being made.

Homelessness as a social issue in Ireland in 2018 is rife and deepening. Not only are the high numbers of deaths from homelessness but the root cause of it is in the current housing system. It does not meet the needs of families and single adults in society today. A right to a home is a fundamental human right and although much is being done to resolve this issue, more needs to be done also. Stigma and language can define a homeless person as some who needs to marginalized and excluded and this needs to change also. Fundamentally we all have a right to a place to call home.


  1. accessed on 12/06/2018.
  2. accessed on 12/06/2018
  3. accessed on 12/06/2018
  4. accessed on 12/06/2018
  5. accessed on 12/06/2018
  6. accessed on 12/06/2018
  7. accessed on 12/06/2018
  8. accessed on 13/06/2018
  9. accessed on 13/06/2018.
  10. accessed on 12/06/2018
  11. accessed on 13/06/2018
  12. accessed on 13/06/2018
  13. accessed on 13/06/2018

Alison Fagan – a graduate of Trinity College Dublin who enjoys writing both fiction and non-fiction and am very concerned with social and world affairs