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Aleksandrs Gutorovics worked in various jobs in Galway for three years, including at a factory and a refuse company, he says. He left because of family breakdown, he says.
He took with him few belongings and even closed his social-media accounts, he says, because he wanted a clean slate. “I wanted absolutely nothing from my old life.”
For the first few months after he arrived in Dublin from Galway in September, he slept outside near the Disney store on Grafton Street, he says.
In October, November and in the early part of December he met the Dublin Simon Community outreach team most nights, says Gutorovics, a very tall man with greying hair, who is wearing jeans and a blue Superdry hoodie.
The outreach workers were sound and helpful, he says, but they told him they couldn’t get him a bed in a hostel because he was from Galway.
“I’m not from Galway,” says Gutorovics, shaking his head. “I’m from Latvia.”
In January, he requested a copy of his records held by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).
What he was given showed that none of those meetings with the government-funded outreach team in October and November were recorded.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community said that the outreach team wasn’t able to input information to the database at that time if the person was assessed as not being from Dublin.
None of the many calls Gutorovics made to the DRHE helpline were recorded either. “It is mad,” he says.
The failure to record the times that Gutorovics tried to link in with the council’s homeless services raises questions about the accuracy of the information it puts out about its interactions with those sleeping rough.
A spokesperson for DRHE said they couldn’t answer some queries without more details about the client.
A Local Connection
To access social housing in a county, an applicant is usually asked to demonstrate that they have a connection to that county, this is known as the local connection rule.
Sometimes, councils tie access to homeless services to that rule too. A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says that councils can offer emergency accommodation to people from other counties.
The local connection rule was implemented strictly in Dublin from March 2020 to mid-December 2020, meaning that a person from another area couldn’t access homeless services in Dublin.
In December, the Minister for Housing Fianna Fáil TD, Darragh O’Brien wrote to the local authorities and asked them to stop refusing emergency accommodation to people who couldn’t prove a local connection.
Shortly after that, the policy was reversed and people are currently allowed to be accommodated in hostels in Dublin.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community says that while the local connection rule was in place for homeless services, the outreach team wasn’t able to access the homeless database, the Pathway Accommodation and Support System (PASS).
So they couldn’t update the records of people who were assessed as being from outside of Dublin.
“The Dublin Outreach team are meticulous in logging client case notes and interactions on a daily basis,” says the spokesperson for the Dublin Simon Community.
“Changes to the local connection rule have greatly helped as we have been able to access national records on PASS when necessary,” they said.
PASS is the national database for homeless services, it allows homeless services and councils to share information and can also be used to gather statistics on homelessness.
The outreach team still can’t log all its interactions though – as they still meet rough sleepers who have not been registered on the PASS system, they said.
Louisa Santoro, CEO of the Mendicity Institution, a day centre for people experiencing homelessness, says that on 9 November last year, the outreach team had referred Gutorovics to her service for a shower.
But according to his PASS file, the outreach team’s first recorded meeting with Gutorovics is on 31 January.
Calls to the Helpline
Santoro says she and her staff phoned the DRHE helpline for him on 19 November, 22 November, 24 November and 27 November, and logged that in their own records.
None of those calls are recorded.
Homelessness is a health issue, says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner. So each time someone contacts the helpline it should be logged, regardless of where they come from, she says.
By not recording all the times when someone tried to access support and couldn’t, the DRHE is “creating a one-sided record”, she says.
The entire PASS system “needs an overhaul on the basis of users’ rights”, says Horner.
There appears to be a lack of consistency in the recording, says Santoro. “What is the small print? What are we recording and why?”
Deaths on the Streets
If the outreach team can’t record all its interactions that raises questions about the veracity of reports to councillors about rough sleeping, says Santoro.
In 2020, 79 homeless people died in the Dublin region.
Most were in hostels but eight were sleeping rough. Of those eight people, the DRHE said five had had no recent contact with homeless services.
But the DRHE also says the outreach team knows most of the people on the streets.
Were those people really not known to homeless services, or were those interactions simply not being recorded?
“The DRHE only ever states a person who has been found dead on the street is not known to homeless services if we have had no interaction with them,” says a spokesperson for the DRHE
“If we have interacted with them and they are known to our services, we will confirm that,” he says.
Santoro says the DRHE isn’t really in a position to assess whether a rough sleeper was known to homeless services.
The staff at the Mendicity Institution do not have access to the PASS system and there are around 35 non-government-funded homeless services in the city, she says.
A person experiencing homelessness “could be eating their dinner in Mendicity seven days a week”, but mightn’t be on PASS, she says.
No one has ever approached her to ask if a rough sleeper who died was using her service, she says.