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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.