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On a recent Friday night at dusk, sitting on a wall on the north side of the city, Rosemary Fearsaor-Hughes says she has been sleeping rough since she lost her bed in a hostel in June.
She wasn’t given a reason in writing as to why her bed in the Little Britain Street hostel was being closed, she says.
She is visually impaired and her black guide dog, Quilla is sitting at her feet.
She rang the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) freephone service that day, she says, but they offered her a hostel that “was completely unsuitable” for her because of her disability.
Since then she phoned them numerous times but hasn’t had an offer of a bed, she says. “They keep telling me, ‘We have got nowhere for you, nowhere for you, nowhere for you.’ ”
So Fearsaor-Hughes sleeps in a garage when it is raining and a tent when it is not.
“There is no sign of them doing anything for me, I’ve written to them,” she says.
Covid-19 restrictions have made life more difficult for rough sleepers, she says. Most of the day centres are closed and it is more difficult to access toilets and showers: “Where do we go? Are we just supposed to go poof and disappear into thin air?”
Fearsaor-Hughes knows others too who have called the freephone recently and been told there were no beds, she says.
The DRHE says it hasn’t closed any facilities recently, but Fearsaor-Hughes says it has.
“Some of it is that they are putting people out of hotels now and putting them back into big dorms,” she says. People don’t want to go back to shared dorms, she says. “After having had the privacy and dignity for several months.”
Inner City Helping Homeless says the number of rough sleepers has increased lately, reaching 164 at the highest point. But the DRHE and the Department of Housing say the figure has remained low at around 50 or 60 people each night.
At the time of the shutdown, the DRHE said it had opened an additional 1,000 beds, but now it says it closed three facilities for single people too. So there does not appear to be a significant increase in the number of beds in the system.
Accommodating Rough Sleepers
Driving through O’Connell Street at around 10:30 pm last Friday, pedestrians walk by, as 14 people lie down in sleeping bags on the city’s main street.
Will Cummings, a volunteer with Inner City Helping Homeless, is an advocate for homeless people and helped to establish their Be Aware Be Safe programme.
“During Covid-19 we came up here and it was actually empty,” says Cummings, who works directly with about 40 clients. “But now you can see they are starting to come back.”
One of the main reasons people can’t get into accommodation and end up sleeping rough is if they are not from Dublin, he says.
The long-standing policy of providing accommodation on a one-night-only basis to people from outside the capital ended during Covid-19 lockdown because there were no one-night-only beds, he says.
Cummings says he had to call in legal advocacy from the Mercy Law Resource Centre to assist a particularly vulnerable young woman from Wexford during the lockdown.
The woman, Cumming says, was struggling with addiction and unable to return to her home for fear of her own safety. She was suffering from a bad kidney and bowel infection, too.
He emailed DRHE with all the details of the case but didn’t receive a response, he says, so he contacted the Mercy Law Resource Centre and after about two weeks the woman had been accommodated, he says.
That client is currently sober and stable but has not yet had a housing assessment, he says. “She is terrified,” that she won’t be accepted for housing support in Dublin, says Cummings.
More or Fewer Beds?
Cummings says there are not enough beds at the moment for all those who need them.
In April 2020, the DRHE announced that it had opened 1,035 new beds for homeless people in the city since Covid-19 and this was widely reported in the media.
Throughout the months of the lockdown and at the end of July, figures from the Department of Housing show that homelessness is decreasing.
So if beds were increased and homeless figures dropped, shouldn’t there be excess capacity?
A spokesperson for the DRHE said that they have not closed any facilities in the last few weeks. But they did reduce capacity earlier on, around the start of lockdown.
They closed hostels in Aungier Street and Ellis Quay as well as the night cafe in Merchants Quay and reduced the number of beds in some other hostels too.
“This led to a total capacity reduction of close to 500 beds and while new accommodation was sourced to make up for this reduction, it has not been sufficient to cater for an increased new demand/need,” says a spokesperson for the DRHE.
In February, before Covid-19 restrictions started there were 2,830 single homeless people in emergency accommodation. At the end of June, there were 2,895.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says: “Minister O’Brien has spoken of his concern regarding the high proportion of single adults in homelessness, and his commitment to developing focussed policies in response to this problem.”
Establishing a Rough Sleeper Count
Usually, a rough sleeper count takes place twice a year, once in April and once in November. The April count didn’t go ahead this year because of Covid-19 restrictions, according to a spokesperson for the DRHE.
The count should be done soon. It is not just to gather data but also to offer support to those on the streets, says Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan over email.
“A post lockdown rough-sleeper count would give us a fuller picture of the current situation,” he says. “It will also give a baseline to compare the new government’s progress on this issue.”
The DRHE say they are waiting on advice from the Department of Health as to whether the November one will take place but added that they are “constantly monitoring” the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin.
Registering as Homeless
Spokespersons for the Department of Housing and the DRHE say that there are around 50 to 60 people on the streets each night.
They attribute that number to the Dublin Simon Community, which is the source cited by the DRHE for its rough-sleeper figures.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community declined to comment on the figures, saying only that the DHRE releases figures on rough sleepers usually twice a year.
Brian McLoughlin, communications manager with Inner City Helping Homeless, says they meet around 150 people on the streets each night and the highest number they recorded recently was 164 people on Monday 10 August.
McLoughlin says one of the main reasons people end up sleeping rough is that the person needs to be registered as homeless to get into accommodation.
“There is such a rigmarole in place for people who were trying to register as homeless,” he says.
He says that since the Covid-19 restrictions were introduced a person cannot declare themselves homeless unless they are sleeping rough. “You have to actually be in a doorway and the Simon Community Outreach Team have to see you before they (the DRHE) will accept that you are homeless,” he says.
Brendan Kenny, the housing manager with Dublin City Council, said at a council meeting in June that [this is definitely not the case].(https://www.dublininquirer.com/2020/06/10/council-briefs-plans-for-former-tud-site-on-kevin-street-herbert-park-site-and-changes-to-homeless-system-since-covid-19) “There is no question of anyone being told they have to sleep on the street,” he says.
“There was a guy here today,” says Louisa Santoro, CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a food centre, speaking by phone last Wednesday. “He was just out of prison.”
He called the DRHE and staff advised him that since he hadn’t used homeless accommodation since January, they couldn’t accommodate him, she says. “They gave him a sleeping bag. He looked wretched.”
Others are being refused simply because there are not sufficient beds, she says.
McLoughlin says he expects to see a spike in the number of single homeless people in the coming weeks and months since the eviction ban has been lifted.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing didn’t directly answer a question as to whether the lifting of that ban would lead to an increase in people becoming homeless.