Extra Homeless Beds Won't Help Many Sleeping Rough, Say Two Charities

On 24 October, a mother of four children was found dead in the tent she was living in, in Clondalkin.

She may have been dead for several days, Gardaí said.

The young woman was long-term homeless, but had not been using homeless services for the last year according to a report in the Irish Times.

“People are dying on the streets. They are dying in front of us and we are not responding appropriately,” says independent Councillor Anthony Flynn, CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless.

There’ll be more deaths among people who sleep rough this winter as temperatures drop, he says.

Last week, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) launched its cold weather strategy, its annual plan for responding to homelessness over the winter months.

It promises an extra 340 beds. They’ll be opened as necessary and “will provide vital capacity if any extreme weather event occurs,” says the report.

Extra beds alone, though, won’t stop people sleeping rough unless the system blocking those who can’t prove a link to the area from getting a place in a hostel is changed, say the heads of two homeless charities.

A night-time drop-in service, which closed due to the pandemic, needs to be replaced too, they say.

The DRHE spokesperson said they didn’t have time to respond to queries submitted on Monday.

“Due to the demands on homeless services at the moment and resources being heavily concentrated on meeting those demands, it is not possible to meet the deadline,” says the spokesperson.

Climbing Deaths

On Friday 23 October, the body of a man in his 40s was discovered early in the morning in North Wall.

A spokesperson for the DRHE said the man had been staying in a charity-run hostel. He’d been expected to return there, they said.

On 29 October, a man in his 40s died on North Frederick Street in the north inner-city.

Gardaí said that he died in a “residential property”. Some media reports said that he died in a house.

Louisa Santoro, CEO of the Mendicity Institution, says that she knew the man and he died in a privately run hostel on North Frederick Street.

The Garda press office didn’t respond to queries to clarify where he died.

Private hostels are emergency accommodation funded by the state that do not provide support services.

The man who died was from Latvia. He wasn’t a heavy drinker, says Santoro. He was homeless since February 2019 and there should have been a plan in place to move him on from homelessness, she says.

“How many hours of support was he given?” says Santoro. “What effort was made to exit him from homeless services?”

These three deaths within a week are the latest in an ongoing surge in deaths among those who are homeless in the city.

The Winter Plan

Between August and December 2020, the DRHE plans to add an extra 300 “permanent” and 40 “temporary’ beds”, says its cold weather strategy.

There will also be more staff for the Dublin Street Outreach Service and extra “contingency placements” for any families in need of emergency accommodation.

The DRHE has a range of rapid emergency beds and support measures that can be activated in bad weather, it says.

All emergency accommodation is available 24 hours a day and provides food and shower facilities, says the report.

In previous winters, since 2014 at least, rough sleepers could shelter in Merchants Quay at night if they needed. But that drop-in centre closed in March due to Covid-19.

Outreach workers from Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) used to advise rough sleepers to go to Merchants Quay whenever the weather got very cold.

“Where are they going to go now?” says Brian McLoughlin, the communications manager with ICHH.

Some homeless people used to shelter in 24-hour internet cafes too, says McLoughlin. Those, too, have been closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“It is definitely a huge concern,” he says. “It’s going to be a very, very tough winter for rough sleepers.”

Flynn, the independent councillor and ICHH head, says that, in his experience, around half of the people who sleep rough in Dublin are from other parts of Ireland.

Those people from other counties are not allowed to access hostels here and this is the single, largest cause of rough sleeping, he says.

Unless that eligibility criteria is changed for the winter, rough sleeping won’t fall much, he says. “I’ve had no indication that will change whatsoever and as far as I’m aware that policy will remain.”

There are reasons why people leave their counties, says Flynn. Some might be fleeing domestic violence or intimidation. Other times, it is because there are no homeless services there.

Flynn recently contacted Meath and Kildare County Councils on behalf of homeless people, he says. Both said at that time that they had no beds available.

Kildare County Council didn’t respond to queries in time for publication.

A spokesperson for Meath County Council said it has beds available at the moment. “However it should be noted and acknowledged that some homeless persons have difficulty in sustaining emergency accommodation when provided,” says the spokesperson.

Says Flynn: “These people are caught in a catch-22 situation and they are going to be on the streets the whole winter and for the whole of lockdown.”

The Minister for Housing needs to take action to ensure that there are beds available outside of Dublin and put in place a scheme so that other counties can pay for beds in Dublin, says Flynn. “It’s a serious, serious issue.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says that there is no rule that says that a person cannot be accommodated in another county.

“Any person regarded as homeless may be placed into temporary emergency accommodation without the requirement to undergo a social housing assessment,” says the spokesperson.

“These arrangements give local authorities the flexibility that is essential to respond quickly and effectively to the various needs of cases that may arise,” they said.

Responding to Need

Santoro of the Mendicity Institution says that the winter plan won’t work. More beds won’t solve rough sleeping when so many rough sleepers are told they’re ineligible for support, she says.

Needing people to fill out social housing applications before they can get a supported hostel could lead to deaths this winter, she says.

Since March, she has been trying to get a spot in a supported hostel for a very vulnerable client. He can be challenging and disruptive, appears to have learning difficulties or some sort of disability, and is also a heavy drinker, she says.

He keeps getting into accidents and ending up in hospital, she says. She is trying to get him assessed but so few services will see anyone face to face that it is proving almost impossible.

So far he has been barred from six privately operated hostels, she says. Every time he is excluded or barred from a hostel he ends up sleeping rough.

He is not eating or sleeping. He is in poor physical shape and cries a lot too, she says. “I don’t think he’ll see the winter.”

Santoro says that the DRHE won’t place her client in a supported hostel because he hasn’t completed a social-housing application. But she doesn’t know if he has the capacity to do that type of paperwork, even with support.

He should be placed in the highest-support facility available, she says, where staff could work with him to look after his physical and mental health.

“If you want to work with the homeless community, you need to accept that some of them are vulnerable,” she says.

There appears to be a lack of awareness of that among private providers and the statutory services, says Santoro.

A spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community said that winter is incredibly challenging for people who are sleeping rough.

“The severe drop in temperature can lead to or exacerbate health issues ,making the need to secure emergency accommodation absolutely critical, particularly as we face into the winter of Covid-19,” they said.

The spokesperson welcomed the increase in beds and supports in the winter plan.

The Dublin Simon Community hopes to see an increase in placements suitable for couples, as well as beds for women and supported placements, says the spokesperson.

Santoro says that this winter looks set to be the worst winter ever for rough sleepers. All face-to-face services, including mental-health supports, drugs services, counselling services and even Intreo are closed, she says.

To try to plug some of the gaps, the Mendicity Institution and Inner City Helping Homeless are working together to provide an evening drop-in service, with priority access for rough sleepers, she says.

The Mendicity Institution will be open from 4.30pm to 9.30pm each evening in winter, she says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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