Who's in Charge of Making Sure Homeless Hostels Are Safe Places?

Joanne Mooney has been staying in emergency accommodation in Dublin on and off for 15 years.

“The hostels are full of drugs,” says Mooney, outside Focus Ireland’s café on Eustace Street in Temple Bar on Monday morning.

Noise levels in most hostels “are unbelievable”, she says, and violence is commonplace.

“Syringes are left on the floor during the night,” says Mooney. “It’s very hard.”

Mooney’s experience chimes with the results of a Dublin Inquirer-commissioned survey of people’s experiences with the homeless freephone that allocates beds in one-night-only hostels in the city, and of the hostels themselves.

In the survey, which was funded by Dublin Inquirer readers, interviewers with Amárach Research spoke to 126 people, who gave feedback on issues including noise levels, cleanliness and privacy.

Overall, when asked to rate the hostels in terms of overall satisfaction, 54 percent said “poor”, and 7 percent said “good”.

Charities that run such hostels have said that they have their own standards in place. But it’s not clear who, if anyone, is looking over their shoulders to make sure these standards are high enough, and are adhered to.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) did not respond to queries, but its website indicates that for some years it has been working on developing standards for emergency accommodation.

In the meantime, there have been repeated calls over the years for the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) regulate emergency accommodation, but HIQA has said that’s beyond its remit.

Service Provision

Of the respondents to the Dublin Inquirer/Amárach survey, 61 percent said noise levels are “poor”, 61 percent said privacy was “poor”, and 40 percent said cleanliness was also “poor”.

Survey respondents used hostels run by Depaul, Peter McVerry Trust and Iveagh Trust most frequently. The Depaul hostel on Little Britain Street was rated highest, and Peter McVerry Trust’s emergency accommodation was ranked lowest.

(Peter McVerry Trust runs several, and respondents didn’t specify which they were referring to.)

Ciaran Prizeman, earlier this week.

Ciaran Prizeman, sitting in a camping chair outside Dublin City Council’s offices on Monday afternoon, said he was “in and out” of hostels until recently.

When he arrived one night to a hostel in Kilmainham not long back, he asked to be put in a room with “a normal person” as he does not take drugs, he says.

But nonetheless, he has witnessed violence and drug-taking in several hostels throughout Dublin, he says. “It’s safer living on the streets. They’ll rob your runners, they’ll tempt you into taking drugs even if you don’t take drugs.

Of the 126 people surveyed, 93 percent said they had witnessed drinking at one-night-only hostels, 91 percent said they had witnessed drug-taking, and 89 percent said they had experienced bullying or intimidation.

Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said staying in one-night only hostels had a “very negative” impact on their physical health, and 41 percent said it had a “very negative” impact on their mental health.

Who’s Responsible?

It is unclear whose responsibility it is to oversee these hostels and ensure that standards are up to scratch. Last year, we reported on complaints about standards.

At the time, a DRHE spokesperson pointed to the “Putting People First” document, published in 1999, but that document does not refer to night-time-only beds.

The DRHE’s website has a page on “quality standards for homeless services” that explains that the national homeless strategy for 2008-13 included a commitment to “have in place national quality standards in respect of homeless services in Ireland”. 

The DRHE “has been working on a set of standards, which will inform service users, as to what they can expect of services and provide services with a framework for continuous improvements in their services”, the page says. The National Quality Standards Framework appears to be at (fourth) draft stage.

In the meantime, Dublin’s emergency accommodation remains largely unregulated, says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn. He is among those who have in the past pushed for HIQA to step in.

A lack of oversight has an effect on those accessing services throughout Dublin, Flynn says. “It further isolates them and disempowers them,” he says “They’ve no due process.”

Dublin City Council recently re-employed two former employees to examine emergency accommodation standards, says Flynn. Dublin City Council had not confirmed this by the time this article was published.

“But if you look at the amount of people who won’t go into these places because of criminality, because of robbery, because of theft … They’re not protected,” says Flynn.

Safer on Streets

Barry Loughlin, sat on Millennium Bridge on Monday morning, has been homeless for three years.

Loughlin says he no longer tries to access emergency accommodation in Dublin. “I bed down on Henry Street most nights now,” he says.

He used to call the freephone number to get emergency accommodation, and often ended up sleeping on the floor of Merchants Quay Ireland.

There, he says, “other people crept about” at night and staff stayed in the next room. “You can’t get a good night’s sleep. Sure you’re better off bedding down on the street.”

A spokesperson for Merchants Quay Ireland said that it runs regular client forums and a wider annual client survey. “We also have a comment box where clients can raise concerns or suggestions anonymously,” the spokesperson said

Any formal complaints raised individually by clients are dealt with through a complaints policy. Services are assessed against feedback received.

“Any issues highlighted as a result of these would be reviewed by management with action taken where appropriate,” they said.

Neither Peter McVerry Trust nor Cedar House Crosscare Homeless Shelter responded to queries about quality-control in hostels by the time this was published.

These queries included what oversight is in place to monitor standards, how many times their hostels had been inspected in 2018, whether they gathered feedback from their users, and what measures were in place for addressing complaints.

Depaul and Focus Ireland did respond to these queries. A spokesperson for Depaul referred to the DRHE’s National Quality Standards Framework.

Focus Ireland adopted a full set of “standards of customer services” more than ten years ago, said Mike Allen, director of advocacy. It carries out “detailed customer-satisfaction surveys” every three years, he said.

For “customers who have disengaged with our services”, the charity calls them six months later, asking questions including about quality of service.

Some of those surveyed also mentioned the Iveagh Trust hostel, even though it isn’t a one-night-only hostel.

Iveagh Hostel

Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Iveagh Trust, says the Iveagh Hostel differs from other hostels in Dublin because all residents have their own individual room and are free to stay for as long as they choose.

The Iveagh Trust.

“Staff are on hand to provide a level of support and assistance if required, however residents are encouraged to live independently,” said Fitzpatrick.

Having single rooms “affords a level of privacy and significantly reduces the potential for issues to arise between residents”, said Fitzpatrick.

In terms of oversight, a hostel manager reports directly to the chief executive of the Iveagh Trust, who in turn reports to the board of trustees.

In 2018, the hostel underwent a fire-safety inspection by the Dublin Fire Brigade and an environmental-health inspection by the HSE. Issues arising from inspections are acted on immediately, said Fitzpatrick.

Complaints are handled initially by hostel staff, “who will attempt to resolve the issue immediately”, he said.

If a complaint is not addressed satisfactorily, it can be brought to the manager, followed by the chief executive and then to a panel made up of members of the board of trustees.

Efforts are made to resolve complaints as soon as possible, said Fitzpatrick. This could involve moving a resident to another part of the hostel.

Exclusions are necessary from time to time, said Fitzpatrick. “Drug use or behaviour resulting from excessive alcohol intake is not tolerated.”

A comprehensive review of the Iveagh Hostel has now been carried out, and the board is currently considering its recommendations, he said.

Author:

Cónal Thomas: Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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