‘Hidden homelessness’ could now be affecting more than 110,000 people in Northern Ireland, a report has revealed, with the pandemic and increasing cost of living pushing many vulnerable people into poverty.
The Simon Community, in partnership with Ulster University and Nationwide Building Society, unveiled the extent of the growing problem.
The charity explained that many people who become homeless do not show up in official statistics, which is known as ‘hidden homelessness’.
They often stay with friends or relatives, ‘sofa surf’, live in severely overcrowded conditions, squat, are not connected to support services and are without a home of their own.
Findings from the Ulster University report suggest that some groups in society are more vulnerable to becoming part of the hidden homeless population including young people, single people aged over 55, domestic abuse survivors, members of the LGBTQ community and ex-prisoners.
Ann Marie Gray, Professor of Social Policy at Ulster University and Co-Director of ARK, said: “The research highlights the damaging impacts that hidden homelessness can have on people.
"Young people are among those who are particularly vulnerable and the earlier that someone experiences hidden homelessness the more likely they are to develop complex needs.
"Too often, people do not know where to go to for help or find it difficult to navigate the support systems. To support those most in need, more could be done to publicise hidden homelessness and to effectively communicate the existing support that is available and how people can access it.
"However, it is also clear that existing support is insufficient and there are indications that this is a growing problem.”
Chief Executive at Simon Community Jim Dennison believes that the Ulster University Report is an important first step to finding workable solutions.
He said: “We welcome the findings and recommendations from this new report, updating the current legislation to include ‘hidden homelessness’ will be key for homelessness prevention and to help services anticipate current and future need.
“There is no doubt that we are currently facing a homelessness crisis. The current barriers within the statutory housing system in Northern Ireland mean that some of the mostvulnerable people in society cannot access adequate support to secure accommodation.
"The effects of homelessness can be devastating, and we know that people who face hidden homelessness for longer periods are much more likely to experience a deterioration in mental and physical health.
“We believe that everyone deserves a home, but current demand for housing outstripssupply.
"The lack of social housing alongside record rent costs in the private rental sector are contributing significantly to homelessness. Improved housing supply will play a key role in breaking this cycle.
"There needs to be increased investment in social housing and delivery of more affordable housing for all including the private rental sector.”