Migrant homelessness: ‘With the difficult housing situation, they simply end up on the streets’

Housing charities report growing concerns over the number of migrants falling into homelessness


Living in precarious, often overcrowded housing, in sometimes informal arrangements, migrants more than most find themselves at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

Now housing and migrant charities warn the shortage of affordable rental accommodation is increasingly seeing migrants fall into homelessness, sometimes only weeks and months after arriving in the country.

Tomasz Flinik (45), originally from Poland, is one half of the two-person team in the Dublin office of Polish charity Barka, who works with migrants from central and eastern Europe who have fallen through the cracks and ended up homeless.

Every day Flinik says he deals with migrants who have ended up sleeping rough, with the problem getting worse in recent times. “The situation has become very difficult … The work has doubled and tripled and more in comparison to last year,” he says.

Flinik, with the assistance of a translator, says the majority of migrants he works with would be recent arrivals from eastern Europe who have failed to find housing in Dublin.

“People usually come with some money but it is only enough to pay for the first few days, or week or two, to pay for a hostel, then they run out of money,” he says.

“With the difficult housing situation, they simply end up on the streets,” he says. “People we meet usually have been on the streets not years or months but a couple of weeks,” he adds.

Flinik, who was placed into an orphanage aged 11 in Poland and later a series of juvenile detention centres, credits Barka with turning his own life around.

As a young man he was moved into one of the charity’s residential communities on a farm outside the city of Poznań, set up to mainly assist people coming out of prison, homelessness or addiction.

More than two decades later he has gone on to become a team leader in Barka, running the same residential community before moving to Ireland a year ago.

With funding from Dublin City Council, the charity assists European Union migrants who wish to leave Ireland and return home.

Romania was the most popular country individuals sought help returning to over the past two years, followed by Poland, then Lithuania and Latvia.

In the first three months of this year Barka helped 51 migrants return home, twice the number during the same period the year before.

“The longer you live on the street, the more difficult it is to get out … It is catching people before they become rooted and entrenched, catching them and supporting them in going home,” Flinik says.

Staff in housing and homeless charities say it is commonly the case that migrants from other EU countries will have lined up short-term informal housing arrangements ahead of arriving in the country.

This is usually where a family member, friend or acquaintance agrees to put them up, with the intention they will move on into their own accommodation once they find their feet.

Ciara McGrath, a manager in homeless charity Crosscare’s housing and welfare information service, says people in these informal arrangements were at real risk of homelessness.

Despite being able to find employment quickly, the person is often unable to find a place of their own in the private rental market. “They find they can’t exit, there’s nowhere to move to,” she says.

After a period of months the informal arrangement then reaches a “crisis point” and breaks down, leaving the person or family homeless, she says.

Comparatively good wages and easy-to-find employment were a strong factor pulling people here, she says.

“If they don’t have a job on Tuesday they’ll have one the next Tuesday … There’s work for people, there’s plenty of work, it’s housing that’s the problem,” she says.

Many migrants were more likely to try to stick it out, even if it meant “sofa surfing” or living in seriously overcrowded housing, she says.

“We see situations of exploitation, people paying €400 or €600 and sharing a room with seven other guys,” she says.

For EU nationals who become homeless, some can end up “stuck” as they may not be eligible for social housing supports or the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) to help secure private rental housing.

Current pressure on emergency accommodation meant it was now “much more of a struggle” to get someone in this situation a bed in homeless services, McGrath says.

There was also a noticeable increase in the numbers of families facing homelessness. “We are seeing well-established migrant families who are here years getting a notice to quit,” McGrath says.

Crosscare has been receiving “desperate emails” from families being evicted from homes where they had set down roots with their children, unable to find somewhere else in the same area, she says.

As a result of the shortage of affordable rental properties, many families were settling for overcrowded living conditions. “Two parents with a child might end up in a room in a house share with another migrant,” McGrath says.

Dermot Murphy, director of services at housing charity Depaul, agrees that migrants would more commonly be in “precarious” housing.

This could be subletting or sharing a room, potentially without the landlord’s knowledge, which he says “leaves them quite exposed to becoming homeless very quickly”.

While some homeless migrants might have arrived in the country with addiction or mental health problems, others slipped “through the cracks” after losing their job and being unable to pay rent, he says.

Latest figures from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) show migrants are disproportionately falling into homelessness.

The most recent DRHE monthly report outlined that of the 62 families who presented as homeless in February only half were Irish.

A quarter were families originally from other EU countries, about a fifth were from outside of the EU and a small number were from the UK.

Similarly, of the 141 single adults who became homeless in Dublin in February, 23 per cent were from other EU countries, with nearly half of those coming from Romania. Some 21 per cent were migrants coming from outside of the EU, with Somalia the most common country of origin.

The report said nine of the adults had recently arrived from abroad and four had come to the State on a refugee family reunification scheme.

Nationally, Department of Housing homeless figures show more than 11,740 people were in emergency accommodation in February, with migrants making up more than a third of the 8,369 homeless adults.

Outside the Capuchin Day Centre one Wednesday in mid-April, the faces of those in the queue waiting for meals tells a similar story – a mix of white Irish, African, Eastern European and Asian.

Alan Bailey (72), volunteer co-ordinator at the centre in Smithfield, recalls back when he started volunteering in the 1970s it would provide 20 to 30 meals a day, almost exclusively to Irish men living in homeless hostels.

Speaking in a supply room amid stacks of bread, baby food and boxes of tea bags, Bailey says volunteers are preparing to feed upwards of 700 people at lunch. “Everybody is welcome, you can have six different nationalities at one table and they’ll all get on,” he says.

“During the recession you had a lot of foreign nationals working on buildings, who were left high and dry with no work, no money, so they started coming in. We have all nationalities now,” he says.

The number of food parcels the centre hands out has increased from 1,100 a week to 1,400 in the space of a month, he says. “We do see a huge increase, we can’t put it down to any one group of persons because we don’t ask,” Bailey says.

“We mix well together here, because we’re not asking who you are, what you are, what’s your background. We all sit down together and have our meals,” he says.