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‘I slept in graveyards’ – rise in homeless older people

Sleeping in graveyards with no place to call home was the grim reality for 74-year-old Murchadh before he secured accommodation with the Drogheda Homeless Aid service.

He is among an increasing number of older people who have struggled to secure accommodation in the private rental market.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Murchadh explained: “I was in a road accident in 2011 and could not find anywhere to stay afterwards – then later I got cancer, underwent an operation and once again, I could not get a place to rent privately.”

A fellow resident of Drogheda Homeless Aid, 64-year-old Milo, became homeless when he returned to Ireland after spending time travelling abroad following the breakdown of his marriage.

“I was living in a van and my pride would not let me access help – but then it got so cold, and I got that depressed, that I swallowed my pride and it was the best thing I ever done.”

Milo added: “The staff at Drogheda Homeless Aid are absolutely 100%. I am clean and sober for a number of years now and this building saved my life.”

Drogheda Homeless Aid manager Tracy McAuley said one of the biggest problems for older renters is accessing accommodation in the private sector.

“Landlords don’t want to take on older tenants because there can be physical health issues – there can also be mental health issues.”

Older renters face issues finding accommodation in the private sector (Stock image)

She also cited marital breakdown as a common reason for men to find themselves homeless.

Merchants Quay Ireland, which is based in Dublin city centre, helps people battling drug addiction and homelessness.

MQI Operations Manager Geoff Corcoran said the charity noticed a 20% increase in the number of people aged 55 and over presenting as homeless last year compared to 2022.

“That is almost 700 people – and the vast majority of them are men. We are seeing this trend continuing so far this year as well.”

Mr Corcoran said a new cohort of older people are now finding themselves homeless for the first time “through family break-ups or financial pressures and other reasons”.

He added: “We help them access emergency accommodation before moving on to longer term options and hopefully over time, they can get accommodation with the local authority or approved housing bodies.”

Clann Housing – part of the Clúid Approved Housing Body organisation – was set up four years ago to help people aged 55 and over obtain secure and affordable social housing that meets their needs.

It is led by Steve Loveland who said the decision to establish Clann came about because some older people were ending up in care homes or even hospitals – even though this was not clinically necessary – “because there was no suitable accommodation for them”.

Clann Housing now manages 1,200 properties for over 55s all across Ireland and among them is Coill na Darrach – a development of one and two bedroom apartments in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Eddie Lyons, who is originally from Cork, is among the residents there. He had been living in private rental accommodation in Co Kerry with his wife Rosemary, but following her death in June 2019, he did not want to remain in their remote cottage alone.

Eddie Lyons said securing his home in Coill na Darach was like ‘winning the Lotto’

“My priority was security as I was on my own,” he recalled. “I like to consider myself a social being but I also love having my own space.”

Mr Lyons said that being offered a home of his own at Coill na Darrach was “like winning the Lotto” and he has lived there very happily since January, 2020.

He praised the 24 hour security and regular social gatherings at the development, where his grandchildren often come to stay.

The 71-year-old retired journalist pays a modest rent based pro-rata on his pension. “This is my home and my sanctuary, I am very happy here,” he said.

Eddie Lyons pictured with his grandchildren

According to the Central Statistics Office, Ireland’s older population is projected to increase by around one million by 2051 while one in five people living in this country will be 65 or older by the end of this decade.

The charity, Alone, supports older people to age in their own home.

Its CEO Sean Moynihan warned: “What we are seeing now all across the country is an awful lot of older people struggling with housing issues.

“Our whole social protection system is based on home ownership so people can live on a modest pension – but more older people are retiring [still owing mortgage debt].”

Mr Moynihan added: “On top of that, since the last census, we have had an 83% increase in those who are renting in older age.

“While at the same time, there is a huge amount of people in their late 50s and early 60s who are renting and getting really stressed and worried that they are only 250 days away from being homeless if the landlord decides to sell, renovate or move in a relative.”

In a statement, the Department of Housing said housing for older people is funded from the mainstream capital programmes for social housing in local authorities.

Among them is the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS), which provides funding to Approved Housing Bodies, including those AHBs which specialise in housing for older people.

It stated: “CAS alone provided in excess of €220million of capital funding in 2023 for the provision of housing for particular categories of housing need.

“There were over 700 units delivered under CAS in 2022 with 176 of those units being specifically age friendly housing.

“The department is working with local authorities and the Approved Housing Bodies to support the consistent delivery of accommodation for older people to address the needs of all those experiencing housing challenges, including homelessness or the threat of homelessness.”

Asked about the wait times for applicants seeking the grant to help older people adapt their home to facilitate their ageing needs (for example, installing a stairlift), it said this was a matter for local authorities.

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