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Home­less fam­i­lies

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - KITTY HOL­LAND

The home­less­ness cri­sis hit a new low this week. What hap­pened?

On Tues­day night 12 fam­i­lies in Dublin, in­clud­ing over 30 chil­dren, were di­rected to Garda sta­tions as there was no emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able.

That’s shock­ing. How did it come to this?

Well, of the over 1,000 home­less fam­i­lies in Dublin, more than 800 are in com­mer­cial ho­tels and B&Bs. Of these about 200 are hav­ing to “self-ac­com­mo­date” on a night-by-night ba­sis – ie call ho­tels them­selves to see if they have a room avail­able for an “ap­proved home­less” fam­ily.

That sounds stress­ful

It is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult. Ho­tels pre­fer pri­vate guests, and with the tourism sea­son warm­ing up and ho­tel op­tions thin­ning, fam­i­lies are hav­ing to call up to 50 ho­tels and to travel to other coun­ties for a bed. It’s ex­haust­ing, not to men­tion ex­pen­sive, to make so many calls.

Daily, up to 30 fam­i­lies have been un­suc­cess­ful in find­ing a ho­tel by 4pm. At that stage Dublin City Coun­cil does a han­dover of fam­i­lies to Fo­cus Ire­land, whose staff start call­ing ho­tels. By 8pm all fam­i­lies have usu­ally been placed in a ho­tel room, or con­tin­gency emer­gency beds – mat­tresses in rooms, in hos­tels for sin­gle adults. It’s not de­sir­able to place chil­dren in a sin­gle-adult hos­tels as they risk ex­po­sure to adults with men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues. This op­tion has how­ever been trig­gered reg­u­larly since Jan­uary and on a nightly ba­sis since April.

So what hap­pened on Tues­day?

By 8pm all ho­tels, B&Bs and mat­tresses were full, and Fo­cus Ire­land had to di­rect 12 fam­i­lies to Garda sta­tions. Among them were three fam­i­lies who pre­sented at Store Street but who later chose to sleep in Fairview Park, ac­cord­ing to sources. An­other was Cheryl Barnewell, a hair­dresser, her part­ner se­cu­rity worker Glen Con­can­non and their chil­dren, Clay­ton (9) and Rocco (23 months), who pre­sented at Fin­glas sta­tion. They ended up on the floor of the In­ner City Help­ing Home­less char­ity in the city-cen­tre, where Cheryl says she “sobbed and sobbed”.

Fo­cus Ire­land and the Om­buds­man for Chil­dren de­scribed Tues­day night as “dev­as­tat­ing” and “shock­ing”. The fam­i­lies were all con­tacted on Wed­nes­day and, it is un­der­stood, have been placed in ac­com­mo­da­tion un­til Mon­day.

Why is this hap­pen­ing?

Well you may ask. Sev­eral Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, have over the past three years said fam­ily home­less­ness was “un­ac­cept­able”, that end­ing it was a “top pri­or­ity” and that no child should be with­out a home.

Yet the num­ber of home­less chil­dren in Dublin has climbed al­most ev­ery month since June 2014, when there were 567. By June 2015, there were 1,112. By June 2016, it was 1,894 home­less chil­dren in Dublin. The most re­cent fig­ures, for April 2017 show there were 2,262 chil­dren, in 1,069 fam­i­lies, home­less in Dublin.

Con­sis­tently, two thirds of these are sin­gle-par­ents fam­i­lies and al­most all are com­ing from the pri­vate rented sec­tor.

What needs to hap­pen?

Tin­ker­ing with the is­sue needs to stop and ro­bust in­ter­ven­tions are now vi­tal – proper rent con­trols, strong se­cu­rity of ten­ure, pro­tec­tions for ten­ants in buy-to-lets fac­ing re­pos­ses­sion and mak­ing de­vel­op­ers pro­vide more than 10 per cent of hous­ing units for so­cial hous­ing would all make a real dif­fer­ence.

Why isn’t this hap­pen­ing?

It’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent that the in­ter­ests of de­vel­op­ers, banks and other vested in­ter­ests in a hous­ing mar­ket where prices and rents are in­creas­ing, are be­ing pri­ori­tised over those of poor fam­i­lies in the pri­vate rented sec­tor. It has been said that the Gov­ern­ment will not take home­less­ness se­ri­ously un­til it af­fects the mid­dle class.

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