Councillors Are Being Misled by Officials about Homeless Services, Says One Councillor

Councillors are being misled by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) about the eligibility criteria for accessing homeless services, says independent councillor and CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless Anthony Flynn.

“When you are calling it out, it’s as if you are screaming into a vacuum and there is nobody listening,” says Flynn.

Misinformation from council officials, and responses to queries that are less than true, are stopping councillors from carrying out their duties and advocating for vulnerable people, he says.

It feels strange when you are telling the truth but are contradicted by official sources, he says.

“We are elected members,” he says. “It is not a situation that the DRHE dictates to us in terms of how services within the city are provided.”

Says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner: “It is very difficult as a councillor to be hearing reports on the ground that do not align with what we are being told by the DRHE.”

Issues in recent months include mixed messages on whether those sleeping rough need to be witnessed by the homeless outreach team to have a chance at getting a bed in a hostel.

Official responses to queries about the eligibility criteria that those who are homeless – and in particular from outside of Dublin – need to meet to get a bed also clash with what those working in the sector are told day to day by staff.

A report to councillors on whether or not everybody who sought a bed in a homeless hostel in a particular period got one, or not, was also misleading, says Flynn.

The DRHE said it wouldn’t answer questions about these issues.

Six Months Later

On 10 June, Flynn the independent councillor asked Dublin City Council Housing Manager Brendan Kenny if some people were expected to sleep rough before they could declare themselves homeless.

Said Kenny: “There is no question of anyone being told they have to sleep in the street.”

On 23 November, DRHE staff listed “letters from Outreach” – meaning the homeless outreach team that liaises with those sleeping rough – in an email to Louisa Santoro, CEO of the Mendicity Institution about documents that a homeless man needed to be assessed and ruled eligible for a hostel bed.

They later said he needed three letters from outreach, before saying those alone wouldn’t be enough.

Flynn continued to push the issue within the council. He asked the DRHE, in an email, to outline in writing who is excluded from access to homeless services in the city.

On 22 September, Mary Flynn, deputy director of the DRHE, emailed Flynn, the councillor.

There is no situation where the DRHE would encourage anyone to sleep rough, she wrote.

On occasion there may be circumstances where people will not be offered accommodation, she wrote – and listed two specific scenarios.

For one, a person might not be accommodated if they were deemed too high risk by the accommodation providers. Those who had their own resources and could afford to accommodate themselves may also be refused, she said.

But those advocating for homeless people in Dublin say there is another common reason why they are often refused hostel beds in the city – if they are from out of town and cannot prove a local connection.

“Not Placed”

In October, councillors received a report from the DRHE that said that there were beds available every night for two weeks in September.

On each of those nights the number of homeless people “not placed” was zero, says the report.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, said that she thought that meant that anyone who wanted a bed had got one.

Both Flynn and Santoro say that their staff were trying to get beds for people during that fortnight and couldn’t get them in.

Flynn says the figures in the report are simply untrue.

The DRHE didn’t respond to questions submitted twice asking whether the figures for “not placed” included all those who contacted them looking for a bed.

No Clear Answers

The same confusion around whether homeless people can access beds is going on in the Dáil, too.

Last week, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that on the night of 24 November, when a man sleeping rough in Leinster Lane near the Dáil died, there were homeless beds available.

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan says that he understood the figures presented as meaning that every homeless person who wanted a bed had got one.

“Last week the Tanaiste gave the impression that no one who is sleeping rough was being denied access to emergency accommodation,” said O’Callaghan, on Tuesday.

But that is not the case, he said. Somewhere between a third and half of those sleeping in tents and doorways want accommodation, but can’t get a bed, he said.

“Will the government as a matter of urgency issue a circular to local authorities instructing them to provide emergency accommodation to all homeless people who request it?” said O’Callaghan, in a question to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Martin said that significant resources are being put into homeless services and that the local authorities are working with NGOs to get the best type of accommodation for people.

Martin queried O’Callaghan’s figures. “That figure you gave of a third being refused is on the high side and I’d like to interrogate that a bit more,” he said.

He asked O’Callaghan to link in with the Minister for Housing Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien in relation to the issue.

The eligibility criteria “is a mess”, said O’Callaghan later on the phone.

“Homeless people end up sleeping rough because the councils are implementing these bureaucratic rules that might make sense on paper to someone sitting in an office,” he says. “But they don’t fit with the reality of life for people who are homeless.

A change in culture is needed, says Flynn.

Allowing people to sleep rough when they want emergency accommodation must not become normalised, he says. “It has become the norm within the DRHE that this is acceptable.”

Unnecessary deaths on the streets of Dublin this winter can be prevented, he 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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