Dr Lisa Moran & Liam O’Farrell
Ireland is in the grip of a housing and homelessness crisis. Recent studies suggest that the number of homeless families in the Republic of Ireland increased by 232% from 2014 to 2020 (O’Leary and Simcock, 2020). Statistics by the Government of Ireland also showed substantial increases in homelessness throughout the country in monthly reports released in 2022 (Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH), 2022). While there was a substantial policy focus in Ireland on reducing rough sleeping during the pandemic, little research has been paid to homeless families’ experiences in temporary accommodation, including the impacts of COVID-19. A recent ISR funded study on homelessness in Ireland addresses this gap.
While Ireland is by no means unique with regards to increases in homelessness, given the international dimension of the housing crisis, the homeless population nationally doubled from 3,000 to 6,000 persons from 2014 to 2017 and hit a record high of 11,754 in February 2023 (Holland, 2023). It is difficult however to accurately gauge the number of homeless persons and to track the rates at which people become homeless. Definitions of homelessness are multifarious and are muddied further by incidences of ‘hidden homelessness’ (e.g. ‘couch surfers’).
Despite such challenges, quantitative statistics reveal complex patterns in homelessness data illuminating multiple factors at the macro and micro (individual/ family) levels that influence homelessness. However, the deployment of qualitative techniques including ‘storied’, narrative-based approaches are underutilised in charting people’s journeys in and out of homelessness during COVID-19.
A partnership research approach with Good Shepherd Cork (GSC) was developed by EHU researchers in 2020, which yielded insights into complex wellbeing narratives of GSC staff members and service users that are important for policy and society.
We found that wellbeing during COVID-19 encompassed many different dimensions that went beyond concerns for physical health and surviving the virus, including notions of risk, safety, technology adoption, alongside complex emotions due to separation from family and friends.
The research therefore underlines that not only are wellbeing narratives complex and multi-layered, but that political and societal responses to homelessness during future pandemics need to embrace alternative interpretations of wellbeing. Moreover, that the voice of society’s most vulnerable citizens, and the services that assist them should be amplified in international public health forums and planning for future pandemics.
Narrative biographical approaches that connect individual experiences to broader cultural, policy and societal transformations offer extensive scope for policy and government in revealing complex nuances in people’s life journeys in and out of homelessness, wellbeing narratives and post COVID futures.
Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (2022) Monthly homelessness report, January 2022. Dublin: DHLGH
Holland, K. (2023) ‘Homelessness in Ireland hits Record Peak of More than 11,700’, The Irish Times, 24/02/2023, downloaded via Homelessness in Ireland hits record peak of more than 11,700 – The Irish Times, last accessed 15/05/2023
O’Leary, C. and Simcock, T. (2022) ‘Policy failure or f**k up: homelessness and welfare reform in England’, Housing Studies, 37(2), pp. 1379-1395
Dr Lisa Moran is the Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Care and Early Childhood Studies at South East Technological University.
Liam O’Farrell is a Researcher at the University of Sheffield, conducting research that focuses on understanding the root causes of inequality.