Wednesday, 12 July 2023.

The challenges facing single adults presenting to homeless services here in Cork and Kerry couldn't be clearer. As our report, Home Truths: Single Homelessness in the Southwest highlights, they account for the significant majority in emergency accommodation. For the tiny minority that exit to a tenancy, many do so to the private rental sector, which at best is precarious and at worst is a gateway back to homelessness. 

For this post we look at the situation facing those who remain stuck in emergency accommodation, unable to secure a tenancy. We also look at what is needed for single homelessness adults to regain their lives.

Long-term homelessness loads trauma on top of trauma.

As challenging as it is to exit homelessness to a private rental tenancy – and hold on to it, the experience of single adults who remain stuck in emergency accommodation because they have no other option can be despairing and detrimental to health and wellbeing.  

An increasing number of single adults are becoming long-term homeless – stuck in emergency shelters for six months or more; their lives completely on hold. The number of single adults long-term homeless in the Southwest increased each quarter in 2022 and by year’s end every second adult in emergency accommodation was long-term homeless.

Among those stuck in our shelter, at best we see ‘Waiting for Godot’ like resilience where displaced people repeat their efforts and do their best to endure; at worst we see despair and a sense of hopelessness.

As one person staying in our shelter described it:

“Most of the time you ring a place, it’s gone. You get fed up of every day doing it and then you just give up for a while. Depressed out of me head. You can’t get out of it. I don’t seem to see a way anyway. And it’s not for want of trying.”

Long-term homelessness brings its own issues. It’s well documented that the longer someone is homeless, the more likely it is their health and well-being will decline, addictions will worsen, social and economic isolation will increase making it even more challenging to exit homelessness and reintegrate into the community.

Single adults represent the majority on social housing waiting lists as well as in emergency shelters.

The failures of our housing system are not just reflected in the significant number of single adults stuck in emergency accommodation. Single adults also represent the majority on social housing waiting lists here in the Southwest and nationwide and are the fastest growing social housing category proportionally. It’s clear that single adults are failed at every turn when it comes to that basic human need of a place to call home. Without more single-unit, social and affordable housing urgently coming on stream, the injustice of far too many single adults having their lives put on hold for far too long will remain.

The bigger picture is the long-term trend in Ireland and across Europe of an increase in the proportion of single adult households.

The proportion of single person households in Ireland has steadily increased from less than one in 10 households in 1926, to almost one in four in 2016; data from the 2022 Census has yet to be published. This is not unique to Ireland. According to the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS), one of the largest European household sample surveys, single person households represent the largest and fastest growing household category in the EU.

Here at home, our housing system hasn’t kept pace with changing demographics. The 2016 Census indicates there are approximately two and half times as many one- to two-person households as there are one- to two-person homes. We do not have enough one-bed properties.

Addressing our housing and homelessness crisis is not just about more housing - we need more of the right size of housing. We need to plan for more single unit housing in general to keep pace with changing demographics, and we specifically need more single unit social and affordable housing if we are to address the homelessness crisis effectively.

Every day we see first-hand the toll the housing crisis is taking on the men and women turning to us for help. Outcomes will remain bleak, and lives will remain on hold for single homeless adults until there is an adequate supply of secure and affordable single unit housing here in the Southwest and across the country. Until that happens, this vulnerable group are likely to remain in limbo, hoping against the odds for a better future.

Single Homelessness in the Southwest is the first paper in Cork Simon’s Home Truths series, which aims to offer insights into different aspects and experiences of homelessness in the Southwest, drawing on publicly available data and supported by the personal experiences of Cork Simon service users.