Galway’s homeless stats are ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

Homeless people on the grounds of St Nicholas' Collegiate Church in Galway.

Official Government figures for homelessness have come under fire from local charity COPE Galway, which has branded them “inaccurate” as they fail to include rough sleepers and those sleeping on sofas and floors.

The charity claims that in reality, the most recent figure for homelessness in Galway in June – put at 263 by the Government – should actually be far higher.

In fact, the ‘real’ figure could be more than double the Government figure, which does not include people sleeping rough, the ‘hidden homeless’ staying on sofas and floors and people being housed in transitional or longer-term homes owned by local charities and Travellers who are living on unauthorised sites.

The true figure for homelessness in Galway is not known but could be in the region of 600 adults and children.

The Department of Housing’s ‘Homelessness Report’ for June 18-24 – the most up-to-date figure available – recorded 263 people for Galway.

However, Martin O’Connor, Assistant CEO of COPE Galway, said the figures (officially called ‘Details of households accessing local authority-managed emergency accommodation) are only a sub-set of the actual situation, and do not include rough-sleepers and the so-called ‘hidden homeless’, who are at imminent risk of being on the street and are living on floors or sofas with friends or family.

He pointed out that on one day last month, the charity took a ‘snapshot census’ in Galway, which found 160 households (including 221 children, 73 single people and five couples) were directly accommodated by COPE Galway or placed in various forms of other emergency accommodation, including B&Bs and hotels.

However, a further 16 people were sleeping rough (although they were aware there may have been up to 20 others), who are not recorded.

There were also a further 15 families (including between 40 and 45 children), and five single people who were staying with friends or family due to non-availability of emergency accommodation. These people were not included in the official statistics.

The Government figures do not include Travellers living on sites which are not authorised hardstands.

Nor do they include more than 100 individuals who are being housed in transitional or longer-term homes owned by Galway Simon.

Mr O’Connor told the Connacht Tribune this week that the Government figures are “not accurate” and are effectively only a count of people who are in emergency accommodation which is funded through the Department of Housing.

He said that unless the Government has clear and accurate statistics on homelessness, it will not be able to design or fund a response to the crisis.

The Government June figures show that 263 of the 292 homeless adults in the West were in Galway; 25 were in Mayo and four Roscommon.

There are 207 homeless children in the West which is an increase of 50% on the same month last year. They do not give a county breakdown but at least 80% of the homeless children in the West are in Galway.

Youth homelessness (aged 18-25) in the West grew by 30% between June 2017 and June 2018, while the national average grew by 13.7%.

Karen Golden, CEO of Galway Simon, said under 25s now account for almost half the number of people living in emergency accommodation in the West.

“Youth homelessness has been on the rise in Galway for a number of years now and this is something we see directly through the demand for our services. In 2016, we set up a dedicated Youth Service to respond to this need and already this year we have housed 15 young people experiencing homelessness and supported others who are at risk of homelessness,” she said.

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