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The council plans to hire a private company to inspect and publish reports on all homeless hostels – both charity-run and private – in the city, said a spokesperson for Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) earlier this week.
At the moment, DRHE inspects hostels but doesn’t publish findings or reports.
Moving towards publishing reports has been welcomed by those working in the sector but using a private company to do inspections has also raised questions.
It would be better if the state did it, say both the anti-homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry and Focus Ireland’s head of advocacy Mike Allen.
The Minister for Housing should mandate the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA) to do the inspections, said McVerry.
“HIQA have a track record, they are independent, they have done very critical reports of hospitals and care homes and all their reports are made public,” he said.
A Litany of Issues
People who are, or have been, homeless have raised concerns in the past about privacy and security, violence and drugs in some hostels.
In some privately operated hostels, those staying there have complained about bullying by staff, unfair evictions, and a strict no-talking rule. Professionals say that some hostels also don’t put staff through Garda vetting.
Bad advice is a problem too, says Maria Grefaldeo.
Grefaldeo, a healthcare assistant, missed out on a social home in Dublin 4 because of wrong advice from her key worker in a homeless hostel, she says.
She had been living with her daughter in family hostels run by the charity Respond for around 18 months, and was up at number 10 on the housing list for her area, she says. “I was so high on the list.”
But staff in the hostel were “always pushing people to move out”, she says.
Her key worker told her that if she got a home through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), a rent subsidy scheme, it would boost her position on the housing list, she says. “He told me that I would jump to number 2 if I took it.”
But those who are housed through the HAP scheme lose their place on the main housing list. Grefaldeo only found out after she had moved. She felt duped, she says.
Grefaldeo says that the advice she got undermined her ability to make her own choices, she says. “They play with my life and my daughter’s life.”
Her housing through HAP is more precarious and costly than a social home. “If I knew the rent would increase every year I wouldn’t have taken it,” she says.
Her salary isn’t going up so she fears she won’t be able to keep up with the rent increases and so at some stage in the future she could become homeless again, she says.
A spokesperson for Respond says they don’t comment on individual cases.
But “Respond aims to support families to move into a secure home as quickly as possible, leaving homelessness behind”, they said.
Each family gets a key worker who is a qualified social care worker, she says. All staff receive an “induction into housing-led approaches”.
Homeless hostels should be inspected, says Grefaldeo.
That inspection should look at the quality of advice given, and whether the rooms are big enough for families to live, she says.
Inspections should be unannounced and interviews with clients should be anonymous, says Grefaldeo.
Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) is going to start looking for a private company to inspect homeless services both charity-run and private, says a spokesperson for the DRHE.
“The DRHE intends to engage a procurement consultant to assess similar tendering processes, including terms of reference, to advance this proposal,” says the spokesperson.
That is likely to take three to six months, she says.
Other statutory bodies in Ireland have found private consultancy firms to do similar inspections, she says.
“Brilliant,” says anti-homeless campaigner Father Peter McVerry, at the idea of inspections.
But he says he is not convinced that a private firm can be fully independent of the organisation that funds them: “If Dublin City Council are paying them then that is not satisfactory.”
Dublin City Council might not want negative reports to be published, he says. Such reports might lead to closures and then the council will be stuck for a place to accommodate people, he says.
The private company will publish its reports, said the council housing manager Brendan Kenny, at a meeting of the Oireachtas Housing Committee last Friday.
Mike Allen, director of Advocacy with Focus Ireland says that Dublin City Council does inspections and he is surprised that the council is searching for a private company.
“If there are resources to pay a private company why aren’t there resources to build up the internal expertise to do this?” he said.
The National Quality Standards Framework – the standards that some hostels have to meet – was first piloted around six years ago, says Allen.
The standards have been in place in all charity-run hostels for a year or two, he says.
But private operators don’t adhere to those standards, said Kenny at an Oireachtas Housing Committee meeting on Friday.
Private hostels are inspected regularly and “are being managed very well”, he said.
If the standards don’t apply to them, what are they being inspected for? asked Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan.
At the moment, they inspect for physical standards, like fire safety, said Kenny.
The National Quality Standards Framework was devised when most homeless accommodation was charity-run, he said. But the framework will be “transferred” to private providers too, he said.
“It is now intended to reframe these guidelines for [private emergency accommodation],” said a DRHE spokesperson, earlier this week. “So that uniform guidelines and inspection procedures apply across all services.”
As of last November, roughly 1,500 people – half of single homeless people – lived in private hostels. O’Callaghan asked Kenny how many of them have a support plan.
“That is the main difference between the private providers and the NGOs” said Kenny. “Very few of them would have a support plan.”
Said O’Callaghan: “I think that is very concerning that they don’t have a support plan.”
On the phone after the meeting, he said that he doesn’t think private companies are suitable to provide support to homeless people and it is even less acceptable that they are not regulated by a statutory body.
“So you have private for-profit hostel providers being inspected by private for-profit inspectors?” said O’Callaghan.