Take the likes of the Watergate, says Kevin Boylan, by way of example.
“You’re thrown out at eight o’clock in the morning and you’re put back in at eight o’clock at night, so what do you do?” he says.
Boylan, a former builder, is sat at a table in the Mendicity Institution, on Island Street, just behind Usher’s Island – the same table he sits at everyday, he says.
Others around him, also homeless, are regulars too, favouring this place over other day services in the city, he says, from behind dark sunglasses. “It’s like a little family, that’s what it is.”
If it wasn’t for this place, says Myles Howe, they’d be sitting in a pub or a bookies trying to get out of the cold with one eye over their shoulder for a security guard.
They’re lucky this place opens as late as necessary, says Boylan.
Those who stay in one-night-only homeless hostels have to leave each morning – and the theory is that they can find day services across the city to stay safe and warm until night comes again. But those who use the services say that doesn’t happen.
Sinn Féin Councillor Chris Andrews, who works at the Mendicity, says the system isn’t working as it should, that there are gaps in services, times when people have nowhere to go, and the services that do exist are badly in need of more funding.
What Happens Now?
“I see a huge gap between the theory and the practice,” said Andrews, at Dublin City Council’s housing committee meeting last week.
There are currently 16 day services, costing €6.84 million, that are funded by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE), according to a response from council officials to a series of detailed questions Andrews had asked.
But not all the services listed were places people could go for “some respite”, said Andrews, at the meeting. Many were places to drop into for information.
Among those on the list were Threshold’s tenancy protection services, Crosscare’s advice centres, and Focus Ireland’s support teams that visit hotels where homeless people stay.
“Homeless services need to be funded over a 24-hour cycle and at the moment it’s only a 12-hour cycle, mostly,” said Andrews.
Andrews says more funding should be directed toward day services where people can spend time, stay safe, and get out of the cold, reflecting the reality that homelessness is not just a nocturnal experience.
That funding should come from the Department of Housing, which isn’t giving the council enough to provide for people, Andrews said.
Eileen Gleeson, director of DRHE, said there are less than 200 people using one-night-only facilities, where people go in late in the evening and come out first thing in the morning.
People using such services “should only be in the one-night-only facility for a short period of time”, she said, while their housing needs are being assessed.
For Boylan, this was not the case. It took him over a year before moving to a 24-hour bed, he says.
Before that, he stayed in the Brú and then Watergate. Although he could keep his belongings there, he still had to leave the hostel during the day, he says.
Gaps in Services
In the council’s response to Andrews, officials also listed places where those who are homeless can find cheap or free food, and when they’re open.
Many open for a couple of hours over breakfast time or lunch, the list suggests. They open up at 10.30am and shut around 3pm, although the window varies from place to place.
That used to be the case with the Mendicity Institution, but it’s open longer now, says Chief Executive Officer Louisa Santoro.
“Mendicity, when I started was only open until one o’clock and it’s now open until 11pm,” she says.
The doors are open from 9am until 4pm. But people can stay in the building past 4pm if they wish, says Santoro. This is “absolutely demand driven”. It all depends on who is about.
The Mendicity Institute realised people needed a place to stay for longer than the duration of a meal, says Santoro.
Homeless people needed a space they felt comfortable in, to avoid the long waiting hours, potentially on the street in the cold and rain, until their bed for the night was available again.
The Mendicity Institution also offers a space for rough sleepers, who choose not to use hostels, to sit and stay during the day. It has an employment and integration service too, and helps non-English speakers use the freephone service for accessing emergency beds in hostels. Staff also flick on a film every evening from 6pm.
“People can come here for food and nothing more. They don’t have to have a conversation or anything,” says Santoro. “But most of them are looking for support, they are looking for an exit path.”
The staff see people over a longer period of time and can guide them to the services that might suit them best, she says.
When the Weekend Comes
At the housing committee meeting, Gleeson said her agency is reviewing day services to try to identify gaps. But day services aren’t solely the DRHE’s responsibility, she said.
“There’s a health side to that as well,” she said. And a jobs side, too – so funding and services would come from other departments.
“We should be open seven days a week,” says Santoro. At the moment, the Mendicity Institute doesn’t have the resources to do that though.
Howe, who has been homeless for the best part of 20 years, says he spends weekends looking for a place to keep warm.
It could be at McDonalds or the Central Library. It could be at the Ilac Centre or wandering around Busáras.
That’s why places like the Mendacity Institution are so important, says Boylan. They give you a space to get on top of yourself.
“If it wasn’t for these places, we’d be dead,” he says.