National Disability Authority funds new research on disability and homelessness

Two new studies on homelessness and persons with disabilities are to be launched on 8 December 2020 by Mr Peter Burke, TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government and Planning. Both studies – carried out by Dublin City University (DCU) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) respectively - received funding under the National Disability Authority’s Research Promotion Scheme.

The TCD study, “The experience and risk of homelessness for people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism and their families in Dublin. A mixed methods study”, explores the experiences of persons with Intellectual Disability (ID) and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experiencing homelessness or at homelessness risk in the Daughters of Charity Disability Support Services in one area of Dublin. Participants highlighted socioeconomic factors such as an over-reliance on social welfare and poor literacy as factors contributing to experience homelessness. A lack of understanding of the needs of persons with an ID and/or ASD has often resulted in people with these disabilities living in substandard accommodation. Inadequate accommodation is also driven by an over-reliance on the private rental market. The study concludes that emergency accommodation is particularly challenging for families who have a child with an ID and/or ASD and illustrates that homeless services such as hostels are unsuitable for this population group.

The DCU study, “Adult autism in homelessness: prevalence, experiences and support needs in an Irish context - a mixed methods study”, is a first attempt in Ireland to establish the prevalence of autism among this group. The study estimated the prevalence of autistic traits among a Dublin-based homeless population of 106 adults as 2.8% increasing to 9.4% when possible autistic traits are also considered. This estimate is alarming given that the estimated autism prevalence rate for the housed population in Ireland is 1-1.5%. Participants spoke about adverse childhood experiences and also expressed their distress at not being diagnosed or supported to understand their ASD. They spoke about challenges in accessing appropriate homeless services that recognised their individual support needs. The study also notes that adults with autism are at high risk of poor outcomes, such as social isolation, discrimination and victimisation, difficulties attaining and maintaining employment, housing and independent living.

Helen Guinan, Chairperson of the National Disability Authority stated:

“We are delighted to fund the Research Promotion Scheme that always produces high quality research relating to disability. The theme of the 2019 funding -homelessness and disability- is topical and involves a complex mix of issues. The two research studies that we funded allow the voices of persons with disabilities to be heard and illustrate the issues that are central to these groups. They highlight the importance of providing person-centred services that support persons with disabilities throughout their lives”.

Aideen Hartney, Director of the National Disability Authority, added that:

“We know that persons with disabilities experience discrimination in a variety of life settings including accessing and sustaining appropriate accommodation. I am delighted to share the findings of these two reports which highlight some of the intricacies of housing and homelessness and how this can impact on persons with disabilities.”

Briege Casey, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health at DCU, and co-primary investigator of the DCU study explained that:

“The unique characteristics, strengths and support needs of homeless adults with ASD are under-recognised in Irish health and social care strategies and practice. Government and policymakers need to progress and enact autism diagnosis and support services in this area. Practitioners in homeless services and across interdisciplinary teams require training to support diagnosis, screening and sensitive support interventions taking particular account of the presence of trauma, comorbidities and addiction.”

Dr Mary-Ann O’Donovan, who currently works as Conjoined Associate Professor of Disability Studies, University of Sydney Medical School, previously worked at TCD and was the primary investigator of the TCD study. She explained how:

“Our study highlights a lack of understanding in the Irish housing market of the specific housing needs of persons with intellectual disabilities and/or autism and their families. The participants in this study spoke of being exposed to sub-standard, unstable and inappropriate living conditions, which place them at high risk of homelessness. The study identifies the bureaucracy, barriers and discrimination faced by persons with intellectual disabilities in navigating the housing market and highlights the need to tackle this issue as part of the national policy of de-congregation.”

Both studies will be available to read at www.nda.ie from 8 December 2020.

Note to the Editor

  • The Research Promotion Scheme runs every two years and calls for applications on study areas related to disability. The theme of the 2019 Research Promotion Scheme was “People with a Disability Experiencing Homelessness” and two research grants were awarded.
  • The first study referenced above is by the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability in partnership with the Daughters of Charity Disability Support Services in one area of Dublin.
  • The second study referenced above is by a team of researchers at the School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health, Dublin City University in collaboration with King’s College London, UK. This report was partnered by the Dublin Simon Community; Dublin Region Homeless Executive; AsIAm; Gheel Autism Services and the Public and Patient Involvement Ignite project at DCU.