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Asha Iqbal, a musician and homeless activist, says she feels dehumanised by the strict rules in the emergency accommodation she is living in.
Her accommodation, which is operating as privately run emergency accommodation, forbids its residents from speaking to each other and that rule is applied very strictly, she says.
A young woman aged 19 died in the hotel recently, says Iqbal. Some of the other people living there knew her – but they were told not to discuss her death, she says.
It was the second death in the facility since she moved in a few months ago, she says.
“We are not allowed to mention their names, there is no card and flowers,” says Iqbal.
“It makes people feel like they are rubbish.”
A spokesperson for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) said the two deaths were included in a statistics compiled on deaths in homeless services.
Before Covid-19, Iqbal, who says she’s been in and out of homeless accommodation since she was 17, was working and sharing a rented apartment with a male friend.
During the pandemic, she says she lost her job, and due to a breakdown in the relationship with her friend, she had to leave the property suddenly.
“It was difficult to present as homeless during Covid-19,” she says, fearing she could end up on the streets: “I was terrified to go into homelessness at this time.”
Upon entering emergency accommodation in June 2020, Iqbal was handed a list of rules to abide by for the duration of her stay.
One particular rule states that people “are not allowed to stop for a chat on […] the landing and stair ways.”
Some say that the no-talking rule, along with other rules in emergency accommodation are quite common, and worry that they may infringe on people’s human rights — on top of this, there are questions regarding where these rules came from in the first place.
Living in Fear
Will Cummings, an advocacy worker with Inner City Helping Homeless, says that a number of his clients staying in different hostels also report that the no-talking rule is in place.
The rules are so strict that they appear to infringe on the human rights of people experiencing homelessness, says Cummings.
“There is definitely an issue with rights,” he says.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.
“Businesses must respect human rights,” says Doireann Ansbro, senior research and policy officer with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
Ansbro says that the responsibility to ensure people’s human rights may be heightened when providing basic services like accommodation.
“People retain their human rights – including of freedom of expression – in private settings,” she says.
The no-talking policy is particularly prevalent in hostels where women live, says Cummings. It reminds him of The Handmaid’s Tale, he says. “It is quite scary”.
He says he first heard of the rule around a year ago, so he doesn’t think it’s a rule that’s been introduced due to Covid-19. He thinks that some version of the no talking rule is in place in at least nine homeless facilities in the city.
Cummings says that many of the staff working in emergency accommodation seem like nice people so he wonders where the rule originated from in the first place.
“These hostels are not all managed by the same people, so where is it coming from and why?” he says.
Pages one and two of the rules and guidelines, handed to Iqbal at the beginning of her stay mention Dublin City Council (DCC).
Like rule 30, for example, which states that “residents shall allow authorised staff of Dublin City Council or their agents to inspect their rooms/apartments allocated.”
The DRHE says that it never told private operators to forbid people from talking to each other. “The DRHE did not and would not give such advice,” says a spokesperson.
The spokesperson said that the rules were not issued by the council and are “not in operation currently in the emergency accommodation facility.”
The DRHE recently issued guidelines for people in emergency accommodation, she says.
The DRHE did not answer queries about whether the no speaking rule infringes on the human rights of people living in these facilities.
Not all private hostels operate that policy, says Cummings. Some of his clients are in a privately run hostel where the staff organised a movie night recently, he says. “Some are treating people like normal human beings.”
What Are the Rules?
When Iqbal first moved into the emergency accommodation she had lots of clothes, books, toiletries and other personal belongings with her, she says.
“I had to throw most of my stuff away,” she says, dressed in jeans, converse and a gold-sequinned jacket.
According to the new rules of her emergency accommodation, she was only allowed to bring two bags with her.
“It is dehumanising to be told you are only a homeless and you can only have two bags,” she says.
She says that this rule made her feel shame, like she was a woman in a poor house.
“This, to me, is the modern day poor house,” she says.
Other rules, such as not being allowed to leave her room between 11pm and 7am means she’s not able to go and get fresh air in-between these times, she says.
Cummings is trained in active listening, mental health and as a first responder for people who are feeling suicidal, he says.
A client who was feeling suicidal recently contacted him and he attended to assist her, he says.
He waited with her for an ambulance but they had to sit together on the steps, he says, because the facility doesn’t allow any visitors, including professionals, he said.
Meals are provided in the hotel, says Iqbal, but the food is not healthy in her view and there is never enough, she says. “I’m a chef and the dinner is a child’s portion,” she says.
She has allergies too and those are also not catered for. “It is so hard to not wake up and make yourself scrambled eggs and vegetables,” she says.
A Night-to-Night Basis
“All service users should note that their placement in emergency accommodation is strictly on a night to night basis,” say the rules that Iqbal says she received in June.
A spokesperson for the DRHE didn’t respond in time for publication as to why people are not booked in for longer.
Private operators do not have to provide the person with a reason as to why they are losing their bed, says Cummings, and that creates a lot of fear.
If a person gets barred from one hostel, they fear they could be barred from others as a result and end up on the streets, he says.
One of his other clients (in a different hostel from Iqbal) was told she could lose her bed because she loaned a hairdryer to another woman in the facility, he says.
“I have three ladies now that want to make complaints about their hostel,” he says. “But they are absolutely terrified of being barred from a hostel.”
A spokesperson for the DRHE says the organisation actively pursues all complaints according to its formal complaints policy.
“If complaints are made with regard to any aspect of homeless services they are investigated thoroughly and remedial action is taken if appropriate,” says the spokesperson.
Asha Iqbal asked us not to name the emergency accommodation she lives in as she fears that could affect her placement there.