Dublin: BREAKING the SILENCE:4: Still ‘No Room At The Inn’ For Ireland’s Homeless

7 Feb

Lost Children in the Wilderness ©

By J. P. Anderson (International registered copyright of the author 2006)

The nature and extent of homelessness in Dublin, (2001-2003).

There never has been any systematic gathering of information on the numbers of people who are homeless in Ireland, who they are or why they have become homeless.

Most research on the subject has been carried out by voluntary organisations although, in more recent years, a substantial body of research by official bodies, notably The (then) Eastern Health Board/ ( Now the HSE ) and the ‘Homeless -Initiative’, has been carried out, in order to inform the development of more effective responses to homeless people. Various sources of information-indicate that there are two broad categories of homeless people.

 

Those for whom poverty, combined with crisis, has precipitated homelessness. (E, g; relationship breakdown, evection), and those who have chronic disabilities. (E, g; mental illness, alcohol and/or drug dependence). The increases in homelessness in recent years are connected with a range of issues.

The cut-back in ‘community-care’ and other public services during the 1980s has left a number of people vulnerable to becoming homeless.

Similarly, the policy of ’care in the community’ for people in psychiatric institutions, implemented at the same time, failed to make adequate provision for support services and many of those people have since become homeless.

Increasing levels of domestic violence and family breakdown, has led to increased levels of homelessness among families and among men, who have been barred from the family home.

More recently, local community ’action groups’ (against drug-dealers and users) has led to increased homelessness amongst this group.

The current shortage in housing available to low-income households has left many more people vulnerable to becoming homeless.

The economic boom and consequent migration into Dublin has put private rented housing out of the reach of many low-income households.

Public Housing is also in short supply and, in many cases, does not cater to the needs of single person households, who comprise the majority of people who are homeless.

The most recent national assessment of homeless people, over the period of a week, undertaken in 1999 indicates that 75% of homeless people live in the eastern region area.

The report of the assessment (counted-in) was carried out by the ERSI, on behalf of The Homeless Initiative. Counted-In, identified 2,900 adults who fell into two distinct groups. One group (1,550) were largely women with children, the other group (1,350) were largely older men, staying in hostels, many of them for extended periods of time. Half of them had been homeless for more than to years, and over 400 of them for over *five years. (*Authors note: and my detailed research, identified many of these men who had been in hostel accommodation for periods of over 20 years.).

The assessment found that over 200 people were sleeping rough of who one in five was aged less than 20 years of age.

Dublin has a growing number of homeless people, they are younger and there are proportionately more families and women.

Between the assessment and now (2003), levels of homelessness have continued to grow, particularly among younger people and street sleepers.

By the nature of their lifestyles, homeless people are prone to health problems, studies have shown that homeless people have high levels, relative to the wider population, of mental and physical ill health, depression, obesity, drug and alcohol problems, hepatitis ’C’ and ’B’ and dental problems.

Clearly, many people who become homeless will have a range of support needs, which must be addressed alongside their need for housing.

According to the 1999 assessment of homelessness, 95% of homeless people in Dublin are in the City Council Area; The situation in Dublin has been exacerbated both by the lack of services for homeless people outside the city-centre area, and the practice of referring all homeless people to a central, homeless-persons-unit, (HPU), operated by the Northern Area Health Board / HSE, which provides income maintenance payments, under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, to homeless people and also referral to emergency accommodation and other services.

The movement of homeless people from their local communities into the city centre, away from their family, friends and other support networks, places additional stress on the families in addition to the person who has become homeless. Such a move, also poses a significant risk, particularly for young and otherwise vulnerable people , whom can quickly get caught up in a city-street sub-culture with its attendant dangers.

It has also contributed greatly towards the situation where, local authorities and health boards / HSE outside the Dublin-City-Council Area, provide virtually no direct services to homeless people.

Current services for homeless people tend to be narrowly focused on meeting the immediate needs of homeless people for food and shelter. There is little emphasis on linking people to appropriate services, reintegrating them into mainstream housing or preventing them from becoming homeless in the first place.

This together with the shortage of housing for people to move on to, has resulted in some people living long-term in hostels, effectively permanently socially excluding them, and others spending ’long’ extended periods in bed and breakfast and other ’temporary’ accommodation.

While there are approximately 700 hostel beds for homeless people in Dublin, fewer than half are available for emergency use, the balance being occupied on a long term basis. At any one time, there are between 500 and 600 households in bed and breakfast accommodation. Traditionally, the homeless population has comprised of largely single men and the provision of services reflects this.

Emergency accommodation and other support services for young people, families and women are severely under-supplied. Some homeless people still have nothing to do during the daytime, but to walk the streets of the city.

The vision,

by 2010, long term homelessness and the need for people to sleep rough will be eliminated. The risk of a person or family becoming homeless will be minimal, due to effective preventative policies and services.Where it does occur, homelessness will be short-term and all people who are homeless will be assisted into appropriate housing and the realisation of their full potential and rights as citizens. (Authors note: Source; ‘Shaping the Future’ Homeless Agency Report: 2001-2003).

“There is one seriously under-resourced mental health service for the *homeless in the HSE Northern Area. Mental health services for homeless people must be provided on a city-wide basis and must not be catchment bound. Such services should be concentrated in the inner-city areas and teams should be sufficiently well staffed and mobile to be able to follow patients. Close links must be developed with the specialist rehabilitation mental health services in the area to ensure that patients can be transferred to these services when appropriate and given the supports needed to help them retain a more settled life-style” . (* Authors note: Quote from the Inspector of mental health services: Annual Report 2004. Mental Health Commission).

Capuchin Friars Make Room for HomelessBrother Luke’s is situated only a two minute walk from Smithfield on Dublin’s North-Inner-City, close by is Benburb Street and Manor Street, mostly regarded as Dublin’s red-light area. North King Street and North Brunswick Street, lead into Morning Star Avenue, where are found the twin-hostels founded by Frank Duff also the founder of the Legion of Mary. One hostel is for men, the second for women and children. At the back of the Catholic Church in Church Street is the capuchin-day-centre, which was established in 1969 and has served the poor, the homeless and destitute with meals and food supplies since that time. It is packed six days a week, rows of tables seating up to eight persons at each, filled with young men and women, older people (mostly men), mothers with small children and babies and non-nationals. Brother Luke’s has been likened to the ’famed’ Bewley’s restaurant in Dublin’s Grafton Street at lunchtime. Anything from 100 to 250 might turn up each day. The food is free and is cooked by fully-qualified catering staff. Brother Kevin Crowley, who runs the centre, sadly notes the need to cater for an ever-growing number of homeless people. “When I started, it was only older men, but a few years ago the numbers started to increase significantly”. According to Brother Kevin, Drugs are drawing many more young people into homelessness – all ages from as young as 16 years of age, and often young mothers with their babies. There are a number of such ‘dinner houses’ and day centres in and around the centre of the city which ‘feed the homeless and the poor’ most have an ongoing need for funding and volunteers to help run the services. Recently the Catholic Churches CROSS-CARE services made an appeal for volunteers. I have estimated that the various charities between them provide some 3,000 mid-day meals for the homeless people of Dublin City, for six days each week.

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