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A Place to Call Home

Dr Mary-Louise Corr, Lucy Holland and Alan McKinstry launched the findings of their report ‘A Place to Call Home: A rights based approach to understanding the lived experience of children and families facing homelessness or housing insecurity’ on 23rd February 2023. The research was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Commissioner of Children and Young People (NICCY) and sought to increase understanding of the lived experience of children and families facing homelessness and housing insecurity and navigating the housing support system, giving particular attention to where children’s rights are not being met.

Interviews were conducted with 32 participants with experiences of housing or housing insecurity: 14 parents/guardians of children aged 0-17; 9 children aged 10-17 living with a parent/guardian; 9 young people aged 17-22 living independently who were care-experienced or identified as having a disability.

All participants in the study, regardless of living situation, spoke of the fragility of their living situation. The analysis illustrated that the concerns expressed by the CRC Committee in 2016 in relation to the placement of homeless families and children in temporary accommodation remain (CRC, 2016). Families and children reported spending a number of years in temporary forms of accommodation and described the impact of constant insecurity and uncertainty about their living situation. Many spoke of a number of inadequacies including cramped, cold & uninhabitable conditions as well as living in unsafe areas and under threat of eviction. As such, across all types of accommodation, the right of children and their families “to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity” (UN CESCR, 1991:para 7) was breached.

The impacts of homelessness and housing insecurity among participants was far greater than a lack of stable housing. Their experiences highlighted the implications for children’s rights as they reported impact across a range of domains including family life, access to and experiences of education, physical and mental health. Homelessness also affected play and leisure opportunities, ability to maintain friendships and social networks and being able to practice their faith.

Based on research findings, NICCY developed a number of recommendations in relation to housing provision, child rights impact assessments and adequate standards of temporary accommodation. In  response to the report, the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive called for a strategic shift towards prevention of homelessness:

“The report shines a light on the experiences of children and families in our communities and reinforces the importance of focusing on the prevention of homelessness to avoid reliance on temporary accommodation and solutions”.