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Around when Dublin city’s current councillors were elected back in 2014, there were 1,548 homeless adults in the Dublin region staying in emergency accommodations, show Department of Housing figures.
Since then, those numbers have gone up, and up, and up.
As of March this year, with the end of this council’s five-year term in sight, there were 4,107 homeless single adults in emergency accommodation. (That all before we get to families.)
Homelessness and homeless services was one the top 10 issues our readers wanted us to ask candidates about in the run-up to May 24’s local elections.
We spoke with seven candidates, from different parties and parts of the city, about what the type of services they would push for if elected.
They talked about the need to take another look at the homeless freephone system, to reduce reliance on night-time only beds and get more 24-hour beds into the system.
They also talked about the need to provide more daytime and weekend services, and to provide more mental-health and “dual-diagnosis” services for homeless people.
Almost all spoke under a disclaimer that without the more affordable housing, there would continue to be relentless pressure on the city’s homeless services.
The Homeless Freephone
If you’re homeless, and single, and you go to the council for help, you’re likely to be given a phone number for the homeless freephone and told to ring it, and keep ringing it, and talking to the operators there, who will try to give you a place to lay your head for the night.
It might just be a mat on the floor.
Then it’s back out in the morning, and you have to do the same thing again the next day. And the next.
There should be a review of this homeless freephone system, says Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello, who is running as a candidate in the Kimmage-Rathmines LEA in this election.
“I think it’s important that we get a formal review of the freephone service through the next Housing SPC [Strategic Policy Committee],” he said.
Costello said he’d like to see the opinions of people who use the service included in that review, as well as those of NGOs who work in the area. (Last year, we commissioned research firm Amarách to talk to more than 100 people who use the freephone service about how well it works.)
The homeless freephone system “probably does its job better than another solution could”, says Eoghan Howe, a Fine Gael candidate in the South-West Inner-City LEA.
“I’d imagine that there would be issues implementing a more technologically advanced system given that a lot of service users wouldn’t have access to smartphones, charging facilities or any sort of computer,” he says.
Howe says what is needed is more 24-hour beds, and more long-term beds so fewer people will have to use the freephone every day.
More 24-Hour Beds
If elected, Howe says he’ll push for there to be more 24-hour beds within the system.
“It’s very difficult for someone to use night-time-only beds every day,” Howe says. “It’d be better to have more 24-hour services that you can stay in for a week or longer.”
Anthony Flynn, an independent candidate running in the North Inner-City local election area (LEA), and chief executive of Inner City Helping Homeless, said similar.
“We shouldn’t have a freephone system in place at all,” Flynn said. “It should only be used in emergency situations where people cannot access a bed after-hours. There should be a system in place where everyone that is registered [as homeless] is put into what you call a rollover system,” he says.
Flynn says a “rollover system” would work by giving people beds in hostels that they can access 24-hours a day, for three months – which could be extended to six months.
Hannah Lemass, a Fianna Fáil candidate for the Cabra-Glasnevin LEA, also said she’d push for the introduction of more 24-hour beds into the system.
“Twenty-four-hour, safe, clean accommodation should be made a priority and should be made available,” Lemass said.
“To get kicked out in the morning, it must be such a difficult and traumatic thing to go through. People need to feel secure where they are,” she said.
According to a Dublin City Council spokesperson, the majority of night-time-only beds are being reconfigured to 24-hour beds.
But independent candidate Flynn, head of Inner City Helping Homeless, says he does not believe that this is the case.
“It’s complete spin,” says Flynn. “If they could prove to us how many beds have moved to a 24-hour service, let’s see those figures.”
“There’s an air of secrecy around the DRHE,” he says, “and we haven’t been able to access the information that we require.”
In any case, councillors have to rely a lot on negotiation to get changes through, and money for initiatives.
“A lot of the councillor’s powers are that of persuasion,” says Labour Party candidate Michael O’Sullivan, who is running in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh LEA.
This can involve persuading the managers at the DRHE, or persuading local residents.
O’Sullivan says that lots of the barriers to providing more services for homeless people, whether that is emergency beds or other services, come down to NIMBYism. People don’t want homeless services “in their backyards”.
“We have a homeless shelter here in Walkinstown and there has been some very heated public meetings,” O’Sullivan says.
Some local people said it would “Armageddon and there’s going to be children taken off the street and blah blah. We need councillors and political people to take leadership on these things,” he says.
As well as more 24-hour beds, Sinn Féin Councillor Chris Andrews – who is running for re-election in the Pembroke LEA – says he has been pushing for more, better daytime services for homeless people.
“People who are homeless at night are also homeless during the day, and there needs to be somewhere for them to eat, to wash, to rest, to be able to do up CVs, to socialise and to recover from illness,” says Andrews. “Those services are not there.”
Andrews works at the Mendicity Institution, a centre near Ushers Island that offers food, a place to stay during the day and advice for people who are homeless.
Howe, the Fine Gael candidate, says he also would push for more, better daytime services if he’s voted in.
“The homeless services that are there seem very disparate. They are run by different charities, at different times, in different parts of the city,” says Howe.
He says that while living in Vancouver in Canada, he worked in an outreach service with the University of British Columbia.
“They’d a centre in the Downtown Eastside where the homeless crisis is off the scale,” says Howe. “That university did an outreach course there and it was extremely useful.”
He’d like to see something like that happen here.
Safety in the System
Many homeless people say they worry about their safety while staying in the city’s homeless hostels.
Social Democrats candidate Jen Cummins, who has worked in homeless services previously, says that in her experience there has always been violence in hostels. It comes down, she says, to stress and a lack of space.
“The amount of people in the one sleeping arrangement or in the one small space and you don’t know anybody, you’re after having a really crap day and they’re after having a really crap day, no wonder people are going to lose the temper and lash out,” says Cummins, who is running in the South-West Inner-City LEA.
To tackle this, she’d like to see people be given more privacy in the hostel system, as well as secure locker facilities.
Costello, a child protection social worker, who has previously worked in homeless services, agrees. “If you’re going to make it a safer space everyone needs their own key, their own room, their own lock,” says the Green Party candidate in the Kimmage-Rathmines LEA.
But that would require more hostels and more staff, which would cost more money, Costello says.
Lemass of Fianna Fáil, Andrews of Sinn Féin and Flynn, the independent, all said that one of the ways violence in hostels could be tackled is by segregating hostels.
“I think that mixing chaotic drug users with people who are in recovery is just so, so wrong,” says Andrews. “If the authorities can’t see that that’s wrong, and they don’t see it, then that’s a huge gap in services.”
O’Sullivan of Labour said this also comes down to better provision of mental-health services within the hostel system. “A lot of people with mental-health problems also have addiction problems,” he says.
And this means there need to be more “dual-diagnosis” services for people suffering from both mental-health and addiction issues, says O’Sullivan, who has experience as vice-chair of the D12 Drugs and Alcohol Task Force.
Although this is a funding issue, “a lot of the council powers come down to powers of persuasion and brokering, trying to get different people together and trying then to advocate a coherent plan for what the problem is”, he says.
Editor’s Note: We didn’t have room to talk to all of the candidates for this story. But we’re keeping track of who we’ve spoken to, so we speak to different folks for future stories in this series. We’re also asking for every candidate’s views on this and the other top-10 issues readers mentioned when we asked what they’d like candidates to talk about during this local election, and putting their responses up in our voter’s guide.