There is no doubt that Irish Travellers are badly in need of accommodation that is suited to their needs, so the Department of Housing’s announcement that its Budget 2024 package includes €21 million to deliver Traveller-Specific Accommodation is good news.
Of course,it is not only Travellers who are affected by the housing and homelessness crisis. But decades of systemic racism have resulted in the Traveller community being particularly vulnerable to the pressures of the concurrent crises in housing, cost-of-living and climate change, and this community is in need of additional support to withstand them.
As we have said in previous blog posts on this issue, the Traveller community is overrepresented in homelessness figures, finds it difficult to be accepted for private rented accommodation and often lives in overcrowded and inadequate housing. The latest issue of the JCFJ journal Working Notes, which has been produced in collaboration with members of the Traveller community, goes beyond the scope of our blog posts and illustrates the wide range of detrimental effects that the inadequate provision of Traveller-specific accommodation can have.
Impact on Mental Health
In the experience of Thomas McCann and Claire Hargaden of the Traveller Counselling Service, two-thirds of the people who access supports within the Advocacy service are not appropriately accommodated. As having “a safe place to lay one’s head at night is a cornerstone of wellbeing”, they attribute this lack of adequate accommodation as a factor which significantly affects Travellers’ mental health.
Irish Travellers are overrepresented in homelessness services and Traveller families can be left in emergency accommodation for years, which adds another level of trauma to the institutional abuse they have endured for decades. In a group whose suicide rates are several times that of the settled community, the impact of every factor which impacts upon mental health must be lessened, making the provision of secure, appropriate housing for Travellers a matter of urgency.
Financial Burden and Impact on Physical Health
Aoife Foley of the National Traveller Money Advice and Budgeting Service (NTMABS) and Ehiaze Ehimen of Atlantic Technological University have researched the area of energy poverty in Traveller communities and their findings are shocking. Energy poverty, the inability to afford energy to light and heat your home, affects Travellers disproportionately. This is partly because of the rising costs of energy, but mostly due to the inadequate accommodation they live in.
Poorly insulated mobile homes or houses are inefficient at storing energy, making them more expensive to heat. One effect of this is living in a cold home, or being forced to used fossil fuels to generate heat which can cause respiratory illnesses. A woman surveyed by NTMABS said
“I can’t afford to keep the place warm. The second the heater goes off it’s freezing, there’s no double glazing, no insulation. The children go to bed early with extra blankets, it’s the only way to keep them warm […] I sit up with a candle rather than turn on the lights because I can’t afford the electric.”
Housing that is adequate must include energy efficiency to allow Travellers, especially children, to live healthy and flourishing lives.
Failure to Spend Funding
There has been a problem in the past with funding for Traveller-specific accommodation not being spent by local authorities, and although we have been assured by the Minister for Housing that the full budget allocated to Traveller accommodation has been drawn down for the past three years, there are still reports of Travellers living in emergency shelters and in overcrowded, inadequate accommodation. The €21 million allocated in Budget 2024 to Traveller-specific accommodation is welcome. This money must be utilised to help the individuals and families whose lives and health are deteriorating because of homelessness or inadequate accommodation, and quickly.
For more about the issues faced by Travellers in Ireland, see the latest edition of our journal, Working Notes 93: Unheard Voices: Irish Travellers and the Struggle for Social Justice.