The maroon door has been shuttered for a week or so now.
Last Monday, John’s Lane West hostel closed so that it can be redeveloped by homeless charity Focus Ireland. With it went 41 emergency accommodation beds on the one site.
The charity says it’s keen to redevelop the hostel into 31 long-term social housing units by the end of 2017.
As the charity sees it, the John’s Lane West accommodation was always an emergency measure and it is time a long-term solution was put in place for Dublin’s homeless.
But were the people forced out of this hostel off Thomas Street given somewhere else to stay? And why did Focus Ireland choose now to move them out and redevelop this site?
A Short-Term Measure
The hostel opened in December 2014 as a response to the sharp increase in rough sleeping in Dublin at the time.
In partnership with the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland operated the space, which, they said in a press statement last week, was “always understood by the DRHE (Dublin Regional Homeless Executive) and the voluntary sector partners as a short-term measure to make best use of the premises until the scheduled building work began”.
Before the hostel closed its doors last Monday, 15 people refused to leave the premises until suitable accommodation was found for them. As TheJournal.ie reported, those who refused were worried that they’d end up in unsuitable accommodation or none at all.
Activists from An Spreach Housing Action Collective said that as the closure approached, half of the residents didn’t know where they would sleep that night – that alternative accommodation simply wasn’t provided.
Neither Focus Ireland nor the Peter McVerry Trust could confirm exactly when or where the alternative beds were made available for those forced to move on from John’s Lane West, but they said that by the time of closure they had been.
“The majority of people using the service at John’s Lane West on a night by night basis were assisted in securing alternative accommodation,” said Focus Ireland in a press release on Tuesday.
According to Francis Doherty, spokesperson for the Peter McVerry Trust, they added extra beds to other spaces around the city to deal with the fallout from the closure without forcing others out.
“There was no hostel with 20 beds, if you like, that opened as a result,” he says. “But given the number of sites we have active across the city we were able to very much absorb it.”
The accommodation in John’s Lane West hostel was night-by-night. Existing sites like the Richmond Street hostel — which offers single rooms for women — were expanded to add more single rooms, said Doherty.
Sinn Fein councillor Daithí Doolan, chair of the council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee, says extra beds were put into the system to absorb the people leaving John’s Lane West, located across four different postcodes in Dublin.
Yet as An Spreach spokesperson Laurence Vize sees it, only half the John’s Lane West residents were provided for prior to its closure, and he’s not convinced that all the accommodation is suitable.
Vize says that while “there was no demand for this building not to close down”, the uncertainty surrounding the 41 beds wasn’t alleviated until late in the day.
(The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive did not specify when all of the alternative beds were made available.)
In a response, received through Dublin City Council’s press office, the DRHE said that “41 [John’s Lane West] beds were replaced in full with 41 alternative beds”. In addition, “all persons on rolling beds were offered rolling beds in alternative emergency accommodation in advance of closure.”
The deadline for the closure itself was, it seems, determined by another impending deadline.
Running Out Of Time
The planning permission for the site requires that the 31 new units be completed by the end of 2017, says Focus Ireland their press release from last week. If that deadline is to be met, the redevelopment had to start by the beginning of July.
As Doherty of the Peter McVerry Trust sees it, homeless people ultimately need homes. “We’re in a very tough position where we’re homeless charities and also we’re social housing providers,” he says.
“We have limited resources with which to create social housing, and if we have buildings or sites or facilities that make sense to transition into apartments or into social housing developments we’d be open to criticism if we didn’t move to do that in a cost-effective manner,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Doolan admits that the hostel’s closure was inevitably going to lead to some tension but says that the 41 emergency beds were not a realistic long-term solution.
“There was always a tension between emergency services for homeless and trying to develop sustainable homes for people, especially when you’re dealing with an increase in crisis and depleting resources,” he says. “So you’ve a situation where you have an emergency hostel but nowhere for people to go.”
Doolan argues that emergency hostels can’t keep opening up. He says that “addressing the flood” is not the best solution. Inevitably though, he says, something else suffers and that “there’s a tension there that needs to be addressed”.
He says a proper building programme for Dublin is key. “The homeless crisis is only a reflection of an underlying crisis which is housing,” he said.
The proposed redevelopment of the site off Thomas Street was originally filed with Dublin City Council’s planning department in June 2007. Focus Ireland got an extension, though, so they now have 17 months to build the accommodation for those on the homeless list.
In its press release, Focus Ireland says it plans for 31 apartments, yet the revised planning permission dated August 2015 caters for 33 apartments: 19 one-bedrooms, 11 two-bedrooms and 3 three-bedrooms.
Focus Ireland did not respond to queries about the alternative accommodation and did not give further details about the proposed development. The work “is due to start and the homes will be completed next year,” it said.
We weren’t able to reach any of the former residents of the John’s Lane West hostel.