An adequate standard of living has become even more unattainable for many people across Ireland due to the ongoing housing crisis. The growing lack of affordable housing harms the LGBTQ+ community by continuously restricting their access to vital support services, secure spaces, and each other.
During April 2023, 12,259 adults and children were reported to be experiencing homelessness across Ireland, according to data published by the Department of Housing. This is the ninth consecutive month in which record numbers were broken.
While this report shows a sharp and continuous rise in people experiencing homelessness, the Department of Housing only records those in State-funded emergency homeless accommodation. These findings do not fully reflect the full impact of Ireland’s housing crisis, as it leaves out individuals in ‘own-door’ temporary accommodation, domestic violence refuges, and asylum, as well as the many who are sleeping rough or staying with family or friends in insecure housing.
An eviction ban was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as being re-introduced for six months starting in October 2022, to provide security for those renting so that they might not be forced into homelessness by landlords’ increasing financial demands. However, on April 1 2023, the Government voted to end these measures, sparking widespread anxiety, fear, and anger.
During the third quarter of 2022, there were 4,741 evictions issued, according to data from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). Almost 5,000 notices were served from July to September of that same year.
The Irish Constitution enshrines the right to own private property, while also noting that the Government can put in place slight restrictions if deemed in pursuit of legitimate policy goals or common good. However, despite these protections around ownership, Ireland currently does not recognise a person’s right to adequate and secure housing.
In 1989, Ireland was among several states to ratify the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which enshrines a right to housing. However, this has yet to be adopted into the Irish Constitution. As defined by the first Special Rapporteur, in charge of holding inquiries into violations and intervening on specific issues or urgent situations, “The human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.”
Without a legislative right to adequate and secure shelter, amid a relentless housing crisis, the Irish Constitution places greater value on the ownership and capital of property rather than the everyday lives of people. Three spokespeople from, respectively, a community group, a support service, and a union further addressed this harmful reality in which many are just trying to survive.
The housing crisis is making it increasingly difficult to buy or rent homes in Dublin, but the Aisteach Cooperative Housing Society is addressing this issue by creating a queer housing cooperative.#HousingForAll #GCNnewshttps://t.co/Zn4LN1pRt8
— Gay Community News (@GCNmag) March 13, 2023
AISTEACH – QUEER HOUSING CO-OP
“What is queer housing? How is it different? […] How are our needs different? Are our needs different? We don’t even get that far because we just think about what’s the minimum we can get. I think that’s a terrible thing the housing crisis has done for Irish people and for people everywhere. Because it is everywhere,” states Eileen Leahy from Aisteach -Queer Housing Co-op.
Aisteach unites people with a shared vision for creating an intergenerational queer housing co-operative in Dublin City. Leahy said, “More and more people have been priced out of the market. We have to support each other, hence the co-op, but also that we’d have housing that is not for profit, in the ownership of the community.”
In 2015, a group of individuals met to begin the process of developing LGBTQ+ specific housing co-operatives. Those initial conversations paved the way for Aisteach to form later on, however this development was stalled due to the housing crisis because, as Leahy shared, “Everyone left. We were trying to set something up. They ended up leaving Dublin, because accommodation is just so expensive here.”
The housing crisis severely restricts the potential for collective action because it limits people’s access to urban spaces, support services, and their community. Leahy goes on to state, “Something I have experienced directly with the housing co-op is that people get involved and are really keen, but then they have to move away. So, they just can’t.”
An LGBTQ+ specific housing co-operative could provide a much-needed space in Dublin for queer people to connect with their community. Aisteach aims to make this a reality by building mutual respect, empathy and trust through an accessible and welcoming environment.
The development of shared and secure spaces, which value community above capital, has become all the more vital. Leahy observes in regards to the restrictive nature of the housing crisis, “If this keeps up for another 10-15 years, we will start to see all the freedoms that we have being eroded now because we just won’t be banded together. […] Once we are all scattered everywhere, we just don’t have the community and it’s much harder to take action.”
Today, in partnership with @FocusIreland we launched ‘A Qualitative Study of LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness in Ireland.’
The report highlights the experience of LGBTI+ youth who are homeless. 🏳️🌈
— Belong To (@Belong_To) September 18, 2020
A group of LGBTQ+ young people expressed a high degree of fear and anxiety when engaging with homeless services, according to a 2020 report titled A Qualitative Study of LGBTQI+ Youth Homelessness in Ireland. Many also felt they must remain silent on both their queer identity and experiences with homelessness when availing of support.
Professor Michelle Norris and Dr Aideen Quilty of University College Dublin carried out the research study, which was the first of its kind in Ireland, on behalf of Focus Ireland and Belong To. It involved interviews with 22 young homeless people who identify as LGBTQ+ as well as a number of policymakers in the homeless sector.
According to the report, numerous LGBTQ+ young people are unwilling to enter a space, such as hostels, for fear that they would encounter a lack of understanding or blatant homophobic and transphobic attitudes among other service users and staff. Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy, Mike Allen, said in a press release at the time of publication, “We are in a housing and homeless crisis with many dimensions, and to bring this to an end, it is vital to fully understand the range of challenges that people face. Given the scale of the challenge, it is easy for the experiences of this group of young people to go unheard.”
Reflecting back on these findings, Matt Kennedy, policy and research officer at Belong To, said, “There is a kind of duality of stigma. Insofar as those young people coming into LGBTQ+ services, like Belong To, also worry that they’re going to experience discrimination and stigma as a result of experiencing homelessness. So, it’s really important for us as a service to not only work with existing homelessness services, […]. but also that our existing youth services are cognisant of the specific needs of LGBTQ+ young people, as well the additional kinds of barriers that they experience.”
Community services are adapting to meet a growing demand from LGBTQ+ people who face inhospitable or precarious housing accommodations. According to Belong To’s LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown report, almost half of those surveyed were living in home environments that were unaccepting of who they are.
“If there isn’t opportunity for young people to be able to leave unsupportive or hostile housing environments, if there isn’t places for them to go, be that emergency accommodation, or quite simply available housing, what you’re going to find is that there are LGBTQ+ young people staying in hostile housing environments, with potentially unsupportive family members, maybe unsupportive housemates, which is going to have a detrimental effect on them,” Kennedy further notes.
Looking ahead, Kennedy addresses the need to work together and further develop support structures for LGBTQ+ people, which can be more inclusive, responsive, and accessible to their lived experiences. Belong To are continuing to strengthen their connections with Focus Ireland and other homelessness services via training and education so that they can better meet the specific needs of queer youth. By doing so, he said, “Young people who do unfortunately experience homelessness, they’re able to access supports that are meaningful, that are keeping them safe, and that will actually work at facilitating them in exiting homelessness sooner rather than later.”
The full version of the LGBTQ+ Caucus’ vision and perspectives can be found on our website: https://t.co/cc8NG3nRWl
LGBTQ+ members of CATU, join the conversation in the caucus!
— CATU Ireland (@CatuIreland) June 5, 2022
COMMUNITY ACTION TENANTS UNION
In January 2020, an LGBTQ+-specific caucus was established within the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU), ensuring the voices of queer people were represented within efforts to address Ireland’s housing crisis. Detailing the launch of this new group, they wrote in a GCN online article, “We believe in collective direct action to directly confront those responsible for the problems we face. Change can only happen when we take action together.”
CATU are a union outside of the workplace, providing collective and grassroots support for people and communities who face severe economic issues, including extortionate rent, stagnant wages, and lack of public spaces in their everyday life. Brian O’Kane, CATU’s communication officer for Cork, outlines the union’s aims; “It’s about rebalancing the power. […] We as a union are fighting for people to stay in their homes, we’re fighting for families to stay together. And we’re fighting against landlords who are jacking up the prices to unaffordable, disgusting rates either to force you to move or to basically exert control over you.”
Since forming in 2019, CATU has seen considerable growth with widespread public support and new members. The union is looking to further strengthen this collective action by forming coalitions of community groups affected by the housing crisis, such as the LGBTQ+ caucus.
Regarding the impact of Ireland’s housing crisis on the LGBTQ+ community, O’Kane states, “Queer people tend to be invisible in the conversation unless they’re actively listened to. […] People fall through the cracks and people are hiding in the margins.”
“If they’re not listened to, you’re never going to know what their story is. So it does merit a real, proper investigation and a real genuine political discussion. Oppression does not fit all equally. It compounds for those who are on the margins, and that needs to be addressed as fully as possible and as soon as possible,” O’Kane continued.
The ongoing housing crisis affects everyone across Ireland in myriad ways, as highlighted by cases where people are pushed out of urban spaces by increasing rents, trapped in unsafe living conditions, or victimised by demanding and entitled landlords. There are countless everyday stories of real people living in fear, anxiety, and stress that go unheard.
In order to stand against a political system which values property over an adequate standard of living, people, communities, and services must work together, strengthening their collective actions with lived experiences. As O’Kane concludes, “You cannot have solidarity with the queer community and leave us to the wolves in a landlord system.”
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