Photo by Caroline Brady

Tracy, who didn’t want to give her surname, says she hasn’t had a bed in three weeks.

Each day, she rings the free phone number for Central Placement Services looking for a bed for the night, she’s told to ring back later that night. She rings back and is told there are no beds left in the system.

For the last three weeks, she’s been sleeping rough at Liberty Hall. Last week, while she slept there, some “drunk youngfella” thought it’d be funny to come up and kick her in the head, she said.

If Tracy can’t get a bed from placement services, she’d rather take her chances sleeping rough than go to a hostel or Merchants Quay, because of the drug-taking and drinking she says go on there.

She’s been homeless for two and a half years, since soon after she separated from the father of her little girl.

Tonight, she’ll try for a bed again, but she’s not optimistic.

Her current boyfriend, Michael, who also didn’t want to give his surname, and says he has has been homeless ever since he came back from living in Holland 18 months ago, believes it’s a waste of time trying to get a bed.

“It’s a pain in the arse,” he says. “Nearly impossible. They don’t give a fuck.”

Tracy says she worries about the coming cold winter months. On one night when she was sleeping out last year, temperatures dropped to minus eight, she says.

Winter Is Coming

With the recent deaths of two homeless men sleeping rough in the city centre, Dublin City Council’s annual Cold Winter Initiative (CWI), which launches the first week of November, will be closely scrutinised.

The CWI is the council’s strategic plan for tackling rough sleeping during the winter months. Close to the time, it carries out a rough-sleeper count to work out what demand will be, and extra beds are brought online to meet the need.

“Significant extra emergency capacity will be put in place to ensure adequate emergency beds are in place for people sleeping rough,” said Lisa Kelleher, spokesperson for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE).

How many more beds will be rolled out, and where they’ll be, won’t be confirmed until the first week of November.

Focus Ireland‘s outreach team will also be geared up to support people who are sleeping rough this winter, according to the charity’s director of advocacy, Mike Allen.

“Assuming there are enough beds, the intake team will be making sure people who don’t usually take them up will be encouraged to do so,” he says. The team will have a strategy once it becomes clear where the additional beds are going to come from, he says.

“I think the homeless executive has said that there will be at least a hundred additional beds,” he says.

Would 100 extra beds be adequate?

“No, it won’t be,” he says. “You need to be talking at least about 160 beds to make sure that everybody has a bed for the night. That’s just a rough figure.”

“When they put the additional 240 beds in last time, there weren’t 240 people sleeping rough but very quickly you got people who obviously were living in squats or other places came out and took up the beds,” he says.

By the end of December last year, an additional 271 emergency accommodation beds were brought on stream to cover the winter months, according to report by the DRHE.

Having done a count last November and found there were 168 people sleeping rough, the council had originally promised an additional 152 emergency beds by the end of the year.

The death of Jonathan Corrie in a doorway close to the Dail on 1 December is perhaps why an extra 119 beds were made available.

Anthony Flynn from Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), says there need to be an additional 250 beds brought on this winter.

“We’re engaging with 150 a night on the streets of Dublin and we’re not catching everybody,” he says. An additional 250 beds would ensure everyone who wanted a bed would have one.

“Alan Kelly said last Christmas that they were going to have enough beds in the system to cope with demand and that anybody who wanted to be off the streets would be off the streets,” Flynn says.

The Minister for the Environment’s words, quoted in the Irish Times, were: “If they want a bed, if they want accommodation, it’ll be there for them if they so choose.”

“Well unfortunately,” Flynn says, “I went over and laid flowers yesterday at the scene of a man who passed away on the streets. I spoke to five homeless people, and three out of five had rang for a bed the night before and couldn’t get one because there was no beds left in the system.”

Why Just For Winter?

Flynn’s other concern is that any additional beds that come into the system will be taken away in March, when the Cold Weather Initiative ends.

“[They] should be in the system all year round,” he says. “We always see from Jan to March the figures will drop because these people will have access to beds. But as soon as they withdraw those beds in March, we see our figures go up.”

According to a DRHE performance report on the second quarter of this year, “Access to emergency accommodation for those engaged in rough sleeping fell from 73% to 66%, resulting in increased visibility of rough sleepers in the region.”

Allen, of Focus Ireland, says that the additional beds need to be available for stays of longer than one night.

Most of the beds that were put into the system last Christmas were for one night only, he says. The following morning the person had to essentially give up the bed and start looking for another bed that night.

“Aside from the stress that puts on the person, it also puts a huge stress on the system,” he says. You have these same 200 people phoning everyday looking for accommodation.

“So we’ve called for the beds, where possible, to be turned into either STA (supported temporary accommodation) where people can stay up to six months with supports, or more ongoing beds, where people can stay at least a week,” he says.

“The homeless executive is supportive of that,” he says.

In three weeks’ time, he’ll know whether the executive can lend more than its support.

Damien Murphy is Dublin Inquirer's Northside city reporter.

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