For Homeless Children Staying with Their Families in "Hubs", There's a Lack of Places to Play

Andrew Connors worries about how his children have nowhere to play and what it’s doing to them, he says.

They are now 7 months, 15 months, 4 years, 5 years and 7 years old.

The family have been homeless since autumn 2019, throughout the pandemic and its severe lockdowns and brief reopenings.

Eight months of that starting in summer 2020 was spent with his wife and children in a family hub with both an indoor playroom and a small outdoor playground, but they were closed the whole time, he says.

Then they stayed in another family hostel with an outdoor play area that was open. It helped the children a lot and they made friends, says Connors.

Moved again by the council last month, they found themselves in another hub, with a playroom and a pool room, but both are closed.

Children aren’t allowed to play in the halls or outside, he says. “It is not good for kids’ mental health.”

As of the end of 2020, there were 21 “family hubs” in the Dublin region, suggest financial records published by the Department of Housing.

In response to a request under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for records showing which hubs have play facilities and their opening hours, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) listed nine hubs, suggesting that the majority don’t have play areas.

As of 26 May, the indoor play facilities in two of the nine hubs on the council’s list were still closed due to level 5 restrictions, the response said.

“I would expect play facilities for children in homeless accommodation to have reopened at this stage,” says Niall Muldoon, the ombudsman for children who in 2019 ran a consultation in family hubs with children, who said having play areas makes life better in hubs.

“The importance of play to children is clear and is protected by the UN Convention on the Rights of Children via Article 31,” Muldoon said.

The DRHE did not respond to questions submitted last Thursday including why the playrooms didn’t reopen when schools went back.

On the Move

When Connors and his family became homeless in 2019, the DRHE first placed them in a hotel in Lucan, he says.

That was good, he says. The privacy of he and his wife and their children was respected, says Connors.

The children could play on their bikes and scooters outside on the hotel grounds and there was a country lane to go for walks, he says.

Council staff then told him that the family had got a spot in a family hub in Tallaght and that it would be better for the children because there were playrooms, he says.

The High Street Hub in Tallaght has a small outdoor playground and an indoor playroom, he says, but both were closed throughout his eight-month stay. “My kids never seen the play area, never got into it once.”

The DRHE didn’t respond to questions submitted in March about why that playroom was closed or when it would reopen. A council spokesperson said that Connors could put in a complaint if he wanted to.

In late March, the council moved the Connors family to another hostel in Gardiner Street in the city centre. That had an outdoor play area, which was much better, says Connors.

His children were delighted and soon made friends. “They loved it. Going out on the swings and their friends were out there,” he says. “It really kept them going.”

“Not Fit for a Dog”

Last month, council staff told Connors, with no notice, that the family had to move to another hostel on South Circular Road, he says.

Council staff said the Gardiner Street facility was only temporary, he says. But all emergency accommodation is temporary.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to questions submitted on 20 May asking them to comment on the concern that unnecessary moves add to the disruption to children experiencing homelessness and whether more continuity would be better.

Connors and his wife packed their children’s clothes and toys into his wife’s car and drove over to South Circular Road, he says.

Inside, he was surprised by the standard, he says. No play areas for children, no TV in the bedroom and no curtains on the windows, he says.

A kitchen unit had been taken out, leaving exposed wires and piping, photos show.

Connor says he told council staff that the room wasn’t “fit for a dog”, and was told that he had no other choice so may as well stay.

The emergency accommodation on the South Circular Road was leased to Dublin City Council, according to an advert for sale in 2017.

The facility operators also didn’t supply cots. But the couple, with two babies, needed those so they were eventually allowed to return to Gardiner Street, says Connors. “It was only the cots that got us out of it.”

Around ten days later the Connors family were moved to the Sheldon Park Hotel near the Naas Road.

It is closer to the children’s school in Tallaght, but the bedroom is cramped, with three sets of bunks, a single bed and the cots.

There is a living area attached to the bedroom but there are strict rules against the children playing at the front of the building or in the hallways, says Connors.

“I swear to god if the child goes out to play in the hallway for one minute they will have a fit,” he says.

They mostly play video games and watch TV, he says. He asked staff about the play area shortly after he moved in around the start of June but was told it was still closed due to Covid-19, he says.

That doesn’t make sense to him when schools are open, he says, and he is worried about what will happen once school winds up for the summer. “I’m snookered now on the 30th of this month, there is nothing at all for them to do.”

He will have to take them out to the park every day, he says.

All children would benefit from access to playrooms, he says. “There is a load of kids here in the same position.”

How Many?

When family hubs were launched in 2017, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive cited play areas among the amenities that would set them apart from hotels and B&Bs.

While only nine hubs were listed as having play areas in the DRHE’s response to the FOI request last month, Connors says at least one more has play areas.

The High Street Hub, formerly the Abberley Hotel, has both indoor and outdoor play facilities, he says.

The council has not responded to queries as to why all hubs with play areas aren’t included in their FOI response or why all the existing playrooms in family hubs are not yet open.

“Public playgrounds are open, schools have reopened and people are starting to mix again in a safe way,” said Muldoon, the Children’s Ombudsman.

When Muldoon carried out a consultation with children living in family hubs in 2019, the children were clear that play areas made hubs better, he said.

“Play offers fun, enjoyment and reprieve from daily stresses for children but it also affords them opportunities to learn both physical and social skills,” 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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