After the friendly pleasantries, Louisa Santoro launches into it.
Santoro, the CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a homeless drop-in centre, is trying to help a guy who’s been in Dublin at least a couple months, sleeping rough around the Disney Store on Grafton Street. She wants to get him a bed in a homeless hostel.
“I got onto Galway, it’s not like there’s a warm bed waiting in Galway,” she tells the staff member who’s holding down the phones over at Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).
He’s logged with Galway on the homeless system PASS though, says the DRHE worker. “If he has all his address histories in Galway, it is Galway that has to look after him.”
It’s 27 November. Two weeks earlier, the head of DRHE Eileen Gleeson had told RTÉ radio that her agency doesn’t refuse to accommodate people from other counties.
Yet Santoro hit a dead end on the phone on at least eight occasions, and in emails, and was told that the man she was trying to help – who had been sent to her by an outreach team that works with the council – did not meet the criteria to get a bed.
In interviews, media statements, and to councillors, the staff at DRHE have repeatedly said that they work assertively to get all of those who are sleeping rough on the city’s streets into hostels and out of the cold.
Yet emails and a recorded phone call between staff and Santoro, as she advocates for one of Dublin’s homeless, shows how they can be turned away by the council, even on nights where there are tens of spare beds.
Any conversation about the frustrated experiences of those who are desperate in tents and doorways, but refused council aid, is stymied by the council’s refusal to engage with questions around what eligibility criteria it has in place and how many people it turns away.
The DRHE declined to comment on any of the questions raised by this article.
Back to Galway?
For 22 days, Santoro has been trying to secure the man a bed in a hostel, she says.
The Dublin Simon Community outreach team had pointed him to her organisation for a shower on 9 November, she says. Since then, she’s been trying to get him somewhere sorted.
Emails dated between 22 and 24 November between Santoro and DRHE staff show that the DRHE refused to give him a bed in a hostel because he couldn’t prove he had a local connection to Dublin.
The man went into homeless services at Parkgate Street to be assessed. But he didn’t have the documents he needed, says an email from DRHE staff to Santoro.
“We are unable to place him due to him not meeting the criteria,” says an email, dated 23 November.
Instead, they referred him to the outreach team run by Dublin Simon Community – which had referred him to Santoro for a shower weeks earlier – and to another charity called Barka, which works with those who are homeless from Central and Eastern Europe.
In one email, a staff member says that he needs to meet the criteria of a connection to Dublin City Council and suggests that “in the first instance” he would need three letters from the outreach team “to prove he is engaging with them”.
Two and a half hours later, a DHRE staff member wrote to Santoro again to say that “3 x letters from Outreach alone will not suffice”.
“If he has no connection to Dublin City Council, then there are no options available to him,” it says, in the same email.
“He Is Galway’s”
Santoro says that the barrier appears to be that the homeless man had at one point lived in Galway.
He’s from Latvia and lived in England before coming to Ireland. He lived in Galway for a while and he has been in Dublin for a few months.
On Friday 27 November, Santoro phoned the DRHE and recorded the call.
Santoro told the DRHE staff member that she had phoned Galway City Council but since he left Galway a few months ago and hadn’t applied for social housing there, they weren’t willing to accommodate him either. There wasn’t a bed for him there, she said.
“But that doesn’t mean anything really, you know,” said the DRHE staff member. “If he has all his address histories in Galway, it is Galway that has to look after him.”
The DRHE staff member told Santoro that he would ask another staff member to look at the case, but if the homeless man applied for social welfare in Galway then the DRHE wouldn’t accommodate him.
“What we do, and all the local authorities are supposed to do it by, is where he got his payments,” said the staff member. “If he is being paid from Galway, well then he is Galway’s.”
The staff member said that they have a system for checking where the social welfare payment was originally processed. “Everybody can say I lived in Cork. I was in Dublin for 20 years,” he said. “It is too easy for them to say that.”
A Different Story
At the close of an interview with RTÉ radio on 13 November, the head of DRHE, Eileen Gleeson, said that her agency doesn’t refuse to accommodate people from other counties.
“No,” she said, when the interviewer raised that concern. “We have people that are sleeping on the streets, we have rough sleepers and we have outreach workers that are on the street 365 days a year.”
Outreach workers know the people on the streets, she says. “Every local authority has a statutory obligation to house their homeless population, their vulnerable homeless population.”
“We work with the other local authorities if there’s people from outside of Dublin, that are on the streets in Dublin, to get them back to their own locality,” she says.
Santoro says that in her experience, the DRHE staff do not help people to return to the other local authority and do not liaise with the other local authority.
In her call and email records, neither of the DRHE staff members offered to help the homeless man to get accommodation in Galway.
“We need a humanitarian response to rough sleeping,” Santoro says.
So says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner too, who also wants independent inspection and oversight of homeless services.
How Many Refused?
“The DRHE in partnership with Dublin Simon Outreach and PMVT Intake team are assertively working on the streets offering accommodation to all rough sleepers,” said a spokesperson in September and again in October.
The DRHE declined to comment on the most recent round of queries.
Anthony Flynn, the independent councillor and CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless, says that in his experience approximately half of Dublin’s rough sleepers want beds but don’t meet the eligibility criteria laid down by the DRHE.
Flynn says he plans to table a motion to the Central Area Committee in the council next week, calling for the DRHE to suspend its eligibility criteria.
Horner says that most Central Area councillors have already signed the motion calling on the DRHE to offer beds “to anyone in need of emergency accommodation in Dublin, based on humanitarian need rather than any other criteria”.
Homeless people are refused access to accommodation “all the time”, says anti-homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry.
As well as those who are assessed as being from other counties, that could mean migrants who have overstayed visas, he says.
Flynn adds people returning to Ireland from years working overseas to the list. They may struggle to prove a “local connection” to any council area, he says.
“The other thing I’m hearing a lot is that if you are not known to homeless services they won’t offer you accommodation,” says Fr McVerry. “Because they are afraid of Covid.”
The DRHE doesn’t mention any of those eligibility criteria in its press statements or in its reports to councillors.
Instead, a spokesperson says that the outreach teams that the council funds “persistently work with individuals to support them into emergency accommodation”.
“This process can take time and multiple contacts, as some people do not want to engage (for whatever reasons) but the teams persevere with every person working to achieve a successful outcome. “
Santoro says that the DRHE cannot stand over the claim that it works to accommodate every person.
“Obviously the eligibility criteria for accessing homeless services is linked to the criteria for social housing,” she says. “It should simply be, ‘Are you homeless?’”