I write as a homeless citizen in my late 30s. My father had a house, a car and three children when he was my age.
The Irish capitalist system has failed my generation when it comes to housing rights. The laissez-faire housing strategy has failed us.
I call for a bailout of the sizeable homeless population of Ireland and the urgent utilisation of State power to act as social entrepreneur in resolving inequality of conditions as far as housing is concerned.
Only the bypass of market forces can resolve the situation. We cannot wait any longer for social justice.
New Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy with Focus Ireland founder Sister Stanislaus and CEO Ashley Balbirnie at Harold’s Cross this morning
Remember former Minister for Housing Simon Coveney’s claim that he would ensure all homeless families would be out of hotel accommodation by July 1?
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has said the Government is going to miss its deadline of 1 July for moving homeless families from temporary hotel accommodation.
He said the 650 families involved will be moved straight into family hubs or other accommodation or they will be notified in writing of where they are going in the coming weeks.
…Mr Murphy was speaking at the opening of 28 housing units in the grounds of Harold’s Cross Hospice in Dublin. The units are owned and operated by Focus Ireland and built on a site donated by the Sisters of Charity.
Mr Murphy said that the review of Rebuilding Ireland is continuing and it is a good time to look at what new measures or powers might be needed. He said the Taoiseach has told him to think big and no idea is too radical.
“The issue of Lynam’s Hotel on O’Connell Street which is currently being modified to become a family hub to house homeless families. A constituent contacted my office yesterday, very distressed, that she, along with her two young boys, were placed in Lynam’s Hotel late on Monday night. They arrived to find the place without running water or electricity in the room and she felt very unsafe.”
“I understand that Lynam’s is being offered as a late-night solution when no other family accommodation can be found, instead of sending families to Garda stations as has happened recently. Yet, Lynam’s is still a building site.
“Anthony Flynn, of Inner City Helping Homelessness charity, went to the property yesterday with Dublin Fire Brigade and I understand that a full inspection is being carried out today. And there’s a photo on social media of a fire escape chained shut and I understand members of the fire brigade did declare the building a fire hazard last night.
“But, in the light of this, and I also understand young students and family, including four children, minister, were today evacuated from 24, Mountjoy Square over safety issues and that a fire safety notice was issued for this property in August 2016, so minister can you now outline what other occupied properties around Dublin have fire safety notices indicating the address and date of issue for the fire safety for each property. How can tenants be left in a property which has had a fire safety notice for almost a year? I’ve asked your senior minister, Deputy Murphy, to act urgently on this.”
Anthony Flynn, of Inner City Helping Homeless, and new figures from the Department of Housing
Just before the Fine Gael leadership debate in the Red Cow Inn, Dublin.
During which contender and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said the party needs to represent both “the man in a sleeping bag on Grafton Street tonight as well as the man creating 1,000 jobs”.
The latest homelessness report, for the week April 24-April 30, 2017 from the Department of Housing was released, showing that the number of people who are homeless has reached a new record high of 7,680 – 4972 adults and 2,708 children.
Anthony Flynn, of Inner City Helping Homeless, wrote:
The last number of days have been fairly chaotic when it comes to homelessness. Tuesday in particular, we saw the highest ever recorded number of rough sleepers and a drastic situation of no hotel/B&B accommodation for 12 families.
This led to a frenzy of supports required to be put in place and services increased to cope with demand. A number of families were referred to Garda stations as there was nowhere else to go. One such family had to be accommodated within our offices until supports could be put in place Wednesday morning. Some of those that were affected slept in tents others in cars.
How did we come to this situation?
A lack of short to medium-term planning is the best answer I can give. A complete lack of inter-agency communication and a lack of will from the powers-that-be. The eye has been taken off the ball in regard to homelessness and the long-term planning aspect has left short-term problems. Homelessness has become a crisis right across the State but hasn’t been treated as such. Our volunteers deal with thousands of individuals weekly, many of whom have become lost in a system of ‘no hope’.
I have spent the last four years in a voluntary position within Inner City Helping Homeless; I have met an abundance of people, from homeless to colleagues. I have made some great friends and am privileged to lead an organisation that shows empathy, compassion and is made up of decent human beings.
This week however, I can say that it has been the worst week I have seen within the homeless sector. Up to 30 children refused accommodation, whilst those who are charged with solving our homeless crisis enjoy their evening off.
Families sent from pillar to post in order to be left with no hope, no accommodation and no home. Homeless has become an epidemic, a plague that has spread so wide across our city and state.
Homelessness has become a business, a sector, it cost in excess of €100million a year to operate. To some that means profit, which in turn means that homelessness will remain.
This however should not take away from our responsibilities, people are suffering.
Children are being now left on the streets, a prediction that Father Peter McVerry made only a year ago. Homelessness has become socially acceptable. It has become tolerable to pass somebody by in a doorway, it has become bearable to leave families stuck in hotels, and now, this week, it has become justifiable to leave children without a bed.
Almost half the homeless families currently living in hotels in Dublin are to be moved to nine “family hub” emergency accommodation centres across the city and county.
The facilities, which have been leased by Dublin City Council for five years, will cater for approximately 380 families…
Just one of the hubs is a former hotel, Lynam’s Hotel on O’Connell Street, with the remaining eight including buildings owned by religious institutions, large family houses, and former industrial premises.
More than 1,000 families are currently in emergency accommodation and 815 of those are living in hotels. Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has set a deadline of July 1st to end the use of commercial hotels for homeless families.
New official figures published today show that the number of rough sleepers in the Dublin region is 35% up on the same period last year.
There were 138 people sleeping rough in the Dublin region during this year’s spring count – the highest ever recorded for this time of year.
It is also only slightly down on the last winter count, despite 210 new hostel beds being provided since then.
The figures also do not include a group of 23 Romanians found sleeping rough in Dublin city centre on the night of the count, 4 April…The figures also do not include 57 sleeping on the floor of the all-night Merchants Quay cafe.
Anthony Flynn, of Inner City Homelessness, released the following statement:
“We have over 40 people bedded down at present here and it is still very early. This situation has been at peak level for a number of nights but this is the worst I have ever seen it. Homelessness, homeless services are in turmoil.”
“Our coordinator has diverted outreach support teams from other locations to deal with the influx in this particular area and our resources are being severely drained. At present, a 27% increase in presentations across the city is what we are dealing with. Our committed and dedicated volunteers are trying to make everyone as comfortable as possible. We need accommodation and urgently.”
“This has been ongoing for five nights now with no Government or State-funded body intervention. A meeting will be held at 9am in order to try and alleviate the problem to some extent, but unfortunately enough is just not being done. We are doing our best in a voluntary capacity.”
“I am calling on the Minister tonight to come and look at this and tell me to my face that Government are doing all they can. This is just unacceptable. The homeless tsunami has hit us and this is like something from I’ve never encountered before.”
From top: A family fun event held outside the Mountjoy Street eviction in February 2016; Rosi Leonard outside Apollo House earlier this year
TV3 broadcast Inside Apollo House, a documentary about the occupation of Apollo House in Dublin by activists, artists, trade unions – to offer shelter to homeless people.
Further to this…
Rosi Leonard, of Home Sweet Home and the Irish Housing Network, writes:
The 750 people who crossed the threshold of Apollo to volunteer their time serve as a testament to the power of self-organising against the housing crisis. The networks, connections and communities that made it possible did not spring up overnight; they mostly born from direct experiences of homelessness and austerity.
Many community-led housing support groups have been running over the past years, spaces where people can get advice on their rights and what services are available to them. North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, Dublin Central Housing Action, Dublin Tenants Association, Wexford Housing Action, Housing Action Kildare and Dublin 8 Housing Action are just a few of the groups who have run support groups of this kind.
It has often been from these support groups that direct action has come, as through this form of support people can, without fear, have their voices and concerns heard. It has been from these spaces that much of the grassroots resistance to the housing crisis has come from.
Numerous actions emerged from these support groups over the last 18 months. The issues that spurred people into action were the same: evictions without suitable alternatives, and the poor, unpredictable standard of accommodation.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the largest Dublin based anti-eviction action in recent years when families resisted the closure of a privately-run emergency accommodation centre for 10 days.
The E13 families, as they called themselves, were a group of 13 families living in the emergency accommodation on Mountjoy Street. In February 2016, the owner of the building on Mountjoy Street informed Dublin City Council that he would be raising the rent on the property Dublin City Council were using to provide emergency accommodation.
Dublin City Council responded by informing residents the centre would shut in a week and that they would be moved to different hotels, many of which were even more cramped, and further away from their children’s schools and their home communities.
A major block to families in the hostel supporting each other was a lack of any communal facilities, children’s play areas and a ban enforced by management on residents being in each others room, even by invitation.
As the date of the hostel’s closure grew closer, the residents met outside and began to form the simple demand that would not leave Mountjoy Street without the guarantee of safe, suitable and secure accommodation.
One of the families was already linked in with North Dublin Bay’s support groups and reached out for support. Families door knocked the area with local residents who had been involved in the Bolt Hostel action, a formerly vacant DCC hostel re-opened by activists in 2015.
The Bolt as it became known, was open for three weeks before a court injunction forced activists to leave. But many of the groups involved stayed in contact through the Irish Housing Network and worked together to support the families in Mountjoy Street.
The campaign to support the families was visible with neighbours putting posters in their window and local groups, including the Grangegorman squat, holding family-fun days outside the property, with local businesses donating food.
“The support from the community was so important,” says Aisling Kenny, one the families who resisted the eviction. “It made me feel like I wasn’t just fighting my own fight.”
In the end, the families won their demand for more suitable accommodation, and many of these families are now in permanent council accommodation.
Over the summer of 2016, weekly sit-ins of Dublin City Council’s offices were common with families demanding more suitable and secure housing and winning victories on major issues that were affecting them daily in emergency accommodation.
Lack of cooking facilities or access to hotel restaurants is a major health risk to children and families in emergency accommodation. Families successfully fought to prove the food boxes council were providing were unfit for the dietary needs of a child and secured food vouchers through these meetings, as well as many people having their individual needs met.
State or charity support for people in housing difficulty can be irregular with unclear guidelines in place, a fact which can leave people incredibly vulnerable.
In July 2016, a family were evicted from the Regency Hotel after they reported the level of mould in their room was causing their children severe respiratory problems. So many homeless families were being accommodated in that hotel that it had its own key worker (a support worker usually appointed by homeless charities) appointed to it – a fact that is not uncommon in hotels around Dublin.
When the family were evicted, the key worker informed them he was no longer appointed to their case and they were left without information, support or a bed for the night.
In this case it was a link between other residents in the hotel and outside community support groups that enabled the family to get help and stage a sleep-out outside the hotel in protest of their treatment, as well as advocate with the family in Dublin City Council to secure alternative accommodation.
A similar case followed when Lynam’s Hotel based on O’Connell street went into receivership. NAMA and Grant Thornton, the receivers appointed to the building stated that it had to close and would be re-sold, again leaving homeless families who were living there in limbo.
As one resident recalls, support groups and collective action was the most effective way they could protect their families :
“I was told to find alternative accommodation by DCC due to refurbishments, later to be told the hotel was in receivership. I contacted the Irish Housing Network for guidance and support as there was none offered by DCC. We then decided to have a meeting with all the families currently at Lynam’s to discuss what options we had and what we could to do to find alternative accommodation.”
“After numerous meetings at Park Gate St homeless services and Dublin City Council the families decided action needed to be taken before we ended up on the streets with our children. We set a list of simple demands that included having facilities in our accommodation like cooking and laundry facilities.”
Pressure was applied to NAMA to use this hotel – not for more private development – but as opportunity to exercise its social responsibility clause and hand it over to the Government for the provision of housing.
Families staged a sit-in in Grant Thornton offices and a march to NAMA headquarters, and when the date to leave came, the receiver was offering deals between council and residents, rather than face a stand-off that would see him held responsible for the eviction of homeless families.
The stories above are just a glimpse of a struggle which almost every community in Ireland has witnessed.
There are many more examples such as the successful defence of a family evicted from Catherines’ Gate, Dublin 8 in December, 2015, who were evicted by private management when they were 20c short of making up a gas bill and assaulted when they complained.
Months later, people living in the Bru Hostel successfully resisted its closure on the grounds that the loss of 101 beds for homeless individuals, at a time when more and more people were being left with nowhere to go, would very likely result in deaths.
One of the women living in the Bru, and influential in keeping it open through a sit-in and march on Dublin City Council, Carrie Hennessey, would later be one of the key figures of the Apollo House occupation.
Many people who experienced the direct provision system and occupied a centre in Cork in 2010 in protest of the racist treatment and prison-like conditions they endured there also lent their support to Apollo House.
Dignity, empowerment and care were the messages constantly pushed by people living and volunteering inside Apollo.
Taken as both a process and a demand, they cut through the Government’s current attitude that the housing crisis is an administrative difficulty they inherited and are now struggling to resolve.
It is no mystery that a lack of tenants’ rights, social housing and community services are forcing families to sleep in their cars and people to sleep and die in doorways for lack of a home.
The more we can support and empower the voices of people affected by the crisis, the more we can build strong solidarity to ensure the suffering and abuse witnessed in previous years never happens again.