The devastating effects on homeless families living in ‘temporary’ hotels: Oxford Brookes academic publishes joint research

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Homeless people web

New research published on 11 June 2019, in the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) journal, The Geographical Journal, reveals the daily disruption homeless families living in temporary hotel accommodation experience.

The one year study, carried out by human geographers Dr Mel Nowicki (Oxford Brookes University), Professor Katherine Brickell (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Ella Harris (Goldsmiths, University of London) conducted research with 16 formerly homeless families, all of whom had become homeless as a consequence of eviction from the private rental sector, family breakdown, or a combination of the two. Each household had spent significant periods of time living in hotels in Dublin, Ireland, whilst awaiting permanent accommodation. 

Through semi-structured interviews, respondents reported the seismic impact hotel living had on their mental and physical health. Daily routines were disrupted as families were left unable to cook, do their laundry, or take their children to school without expensive, time-consuming journeys across the city. Not being able to cook in particular led to higher expenditures, health implications due to lack of nutrition, and reduced family social time.

The destructive impact on children was particularly acute. One toddler’s speech hadn’t developed since moving into a hotel, despite her being over two years old and previously meeting development targets. A behavioural specialist suggested this could be a consequence of the trauma of homelessness. Other examples of children’s stunted development included not learning to crawl or walk due to a lack of space.

One participant, describing their son, said: “He has to see the early intervention team, because he can’t climb or walk stairs and he was a kind of rigid baby. They’re [the specialists] convinced now that it’s down to where we lived, because he hadn’t got access to move around, to crawl, he never crawled…he had no space at all.”

The longest period a household in this study had lived in a hotel for was three years. In Dublin alone in 2018, there were 850 families legally classed as homeless, including 1,926 children, living in hotel accommodation. Previous research has looked at experiences of homelessness, but this increasing intersection between homelessness and the hotel industry has been relatively under-researched, until now.

With private rented sector housing increasingly being used for short term lets via companies like Airbnb, local councils are struggling across Ireland and the United Kingdom to source social housing for people on the housing register. At busy, lucrative times of the year like St. Patrick’s Day, Dublin hotels were asking homeless residents to leave as they knew they could make more money through other paying guests.

Dr Nowicki said:

“This research has really hammered home how terrifyingly easy it is to become homeless; everyone I interviewed just experienced a few bits of bad luck, or lacked a strong family support network. Whilst councils can speak to hotels about improving staff’s attitude to homeless residents, the long term solution lies in investing in affordable social housing and most importantly regulating the private rented sector. Most people become homeless because of eviction, and tenants lack security.”

The issue of homeless households being housed temporarily in hotels is not unique to Dublin, and takes place across Ireland and also in the UK.