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Anne-Marie Donovan slept in a disused car last Thursday.
“It was absolutely freezing,” she says. “I’ve actually got a splitting headache from the cold,”
She and her partner, Wayne Ward, tried the doors of numerous disused cars outside a garage in the north inner city until they found one that was open, she says. Grateful to be off the streets, they climbed in.
“All I want is a roof over my head,” says Donovan.
Ward and Donovan say that there are no beds for women, or couples, available in homeless hostels across the city at the moment.
Others back that up. There is a shortage of female beds right now, said Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland. More couples beds are needed too, he said.
“Nobody should have to sleep on the streets, but if women are forced to sleep on the streets they are more vulnerable to violence and attacks then men,” he said.
“There is a classic moral or ethical response to that, and a society that isn’t able to provide enough safe beds for women who are vulnerable, that is something that is quite rightly condemned and is particularly shocking,” he says.
“Chilled to the Bone”
Last Friday at 8:30am, Donovan and Ward looked tired.
Around them at the Capuchin Day Centre on Bow Street, men and women were eating breakfast or drinking cups of tea and coffee.
Most chatted to each other. Some closed their eyes and rested.
Donovan and Ward still have their hats and coats on. Ward gets up to ask staff to turn up the heat. He says he is “chilled to the bone”, after sleeping outside.
The night before, Donovan had rung Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) on the freephone, which homeless people have to call to book into emergency hostels, she said, but had been told there were no beds for women available.
She would have been happy to go to the Merchants Quay Night Cafe, she says. The staff are “fantastic”.
But she said she wasn’t offered a spot there, either. “They keep telling me, “No. No beds, no beds, no beds,” she says.
Ward said that, as a guy, he could have get a bed in a hostel but that would have meant leaving Donovan alone on the streets.
Anthony Flynn, CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), says that almost a quarter of the rough sleepers they come across at the moment are women.
His volunteers do a nightly count. On Monday night, 24 of the 98 people they met sleeping rough were female.
The most recent figures from DRHE, which carried out a rough-sleeper count in November 2016, found that of the 142 rough sleepers they came across, 20 were female. (Of the others, 110 were male and 12 were recorded as unknown.)
And Anne-Marie Donovan isn’t the only woman who has struggled to get a bed.
Flynn of ICHH said that his staff were twice unable to help a woman get a bed through the council’s freephone recently.
Last Wednesday, they helped a woman to ring just after midnight and she was told there were no beds for women, he says. She asked about the Merchants Quay Night Café, but was told that it was full too, he says.
A spokesperson for DRHE said that all of the beds for women were full on 15 February. “The number of unoccupied beds fluctuates on a daily basis, depending on demand,” the spokesperson said, by email.
It’s unclear why the women weren’t offered a spot at Merchants Quay.
Mark Kennedy, head of day services at Merchants Quay says the Night Café, which has space for 65 people, was nearly full on Wednesday and Thursday night, but not quite. There were 64 people there on Wednesday, and 63 on Thursday, he said.
There is a shortage of beds for rough sleepers, in general, says Allen, of Focus Ireland. But the problem is more pronounced with beds for women.
At the moment, there are usually about six empty beds in emergency hostels at the end of each night, but they are male beds, he said.
Since there are more people than that on the streets and in Merchants Quay, that’s a shortage, Allen says.
When the Apollo House occupation ended on 11 January, Fine Gael Housing Minister Simon Coveney said the government would open two new facilities with 100 more beds for the city.
That hasn’t happened yet. “Work is ongoing to identify suitable locations for the 100 extra bed spaces,” says a spokesperson for the DRHE.
There were 201 new beds opened in December, of which “a significant number” are women’s beds, according to Allen of Focus Ireland.
Most were filled almost immediately.
In Dublin, 46 percent percent of homeless adults in emergency accommodation in December last year were women, according to Department of Housing figures.
That’s “exorbitant by European standards”, says Paula Mayock, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work and Social Policy and Children’s Research Centre, at Trinity College Dublin.
In 2012, women accounted for 33 percent of homeless people in Dublin, which was “more in line with the European norms”, says Mayock, who has researched homelessness among women.
The growing number is connected to the overall increase in homeless families, which “is driven by the conditions within the housing market and spiraling rents”, says Mayock.
She doesn’t expect the numbers to fall any time soon. “It is probably set to rise further, particularly among families,” she says.
There is often a relationships between domestic violence and women’s homelessness, says Maycock. “Many women return to situations of domestic violence because it is a choice between that and homelessness,” she says.
Allen of Focus Ireland said that because domestic violence is one driver of homelessness among women “there is a strong preference internationally for women’s only services – which are also staffed only by women”. There is a lack of these services in Dublin though, he says.
Mayock found that most individual homeless women have slept rough at some stage in their homelessness, but you don’t see them as often as “they tend to sleep in highly concealed locations”.
“They are afraid of physical attack and assault on the street … also because of the stigma and shame of the unaccommodated woman,” she said. “They will often sleep rough with a partner or someone who they partner up with … for some form of protection.”
Government policy has not yet caught up with the fact that almost half of homeless adults are now women, says Maycock.
Flynn of ICHH says that the women are becoming homeless for many of the same reasons that men are. Some have mental-health problems but can’t access services that they need, he said.
Others are sleeping rough as they struggle to navigate the bureaucracy of the system and find a place to stay.
It is hard for staff to leave anybody on the street, but especially women, said Flynn. “Our teams have to do it night after night, it is something that we have had to get used to.”
Flynn says that staff in NGOs are no longer able to call the freephone on behalf of rough sleepers or refer them to Merchants Quay Night Café.
(Dublin City Council Press Office said it couldn’t answer further questions.)
Flynn and Allen agree that the real solution is the speedy provision of social housing.
Mayock and Allen advocate schemes such as Housing First, through which charities provide homes and supports to the most vulnerable rough sleepers.
Allen of Focus Ireland, which runs the Housing First programme, says that the charity’s staff have struggled to find the homes needed to roll it out fully.
Rough sleepers should be prioritised for social housing, he said. “That is the bit we haven’t bit the bullet on yet in Dublin.”