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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 12 December, 2017
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'Apologise or resign': Fury over council official's comments about 'bad behaviour' of Ireland's homeless

The head of Dublin’s homeless executive later said she could “probably have used better language”, but has not issued an apology.

Image: Inner City Housing Homeless via Facebook

THE HEAD OF the Dublin Region Homeless Executive has caused a furore after telling a council committee that for a person to become homeless “it takes years of bad behaviour”.

Eileen Gleeson had been speaking at a meeting of the Joint Policing Committee on Tuesday evening, where she told councillors that homelessness would not be solved by unauthorised groups handing out food.

“If they’re only getting a cup of soup and they’re homeless it isn’t helpful,” she said.

Gleeson also said:

Let’s be under no illusion here, when somebody becomes homeless it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years of bad behaviour probably, or behaviour that isn’t the behaviour of you and me.

When asked about these comments by RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke, Gleeson said she meant ”chaotic behaviour”.

What I meant was that somebody becomes homeless for whatever reason. They’re on the street, they’re begging, they’re behaving in a way that isn’t the way everybody else behaves. There’s issues – they have health issues, or whatever they have.

She later told Newstalk’s Ciara Kelly, she “could have probably used better language”.

‘An insult’

Her comments, particularly those in relation to “bad behaviour” having caused a person’s homelessness, have drawn massive criticism from homeless activists and organisations and from councillors.

Speaking on Today with Sean O’Rourke, Fr Peter McVerry said her assertion that people don’t become homeless overnight was incorrect. He described her comments as “an insult to many homeless people”.

“The majority of people do become homeless overnight. They become homeless because the landlord evicts them, because they cannot afford to pay the rent or because the landlord says they’re selling their house or because the banks have re-possessed the landlord’s house because the landlord hasn’t paid their mortgage.”

He said Gleeson has said that the executive wants people to engage with the services, but “the services are awful and inadequate”.

Inner City Helping Homeless, one of the organisations which does soup runs in the city at night, said Gleeson’s comments were “devoid of any humanity, but are also factually incorrect”.

There are many families, including small children, that have literally become homeless overnight due to unexpected evictions by landlords, banks or vulture funds. Last night alone ICHH paid for a family of five to get accommodation for the night when hotel rooms were at a minimum due to the world cup play off match.

‘Offensive’

The Workers’ Party also weighed in on the debate, urging Gleeson to “apologise or resign”.

“She seems to regard the people she is supposed to be providing services for as undeserving pariahs who have created their own homelessness and who deserve neither sympathy nor support,” the party said in a statement.

The chair of the council’s housing committee, Daithí Doolan, described Gleeson’s comments as “unprofessional” and “offensive”.

“She should withdraw her comments and issue an immediate apology to Dublin’s homeless population,” he said.

“The two biggest causes of homelesses are a lack of affordable social housing and a lack of support for people in rental accommodation,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“I’m not looking for people’s heads to roll on this, but she needs to withdraw that comment and issue a full and complete apology.”

‘Taken aback’

Councillor Christy Burke said he was “taken aback” by the remarks and defended Gleeson, telling TheJournal.ie that he has found her to be “compassionate and professional” in the ten years he has worked with her.

He said Gleeson had spoken to him just yesterday about a number of sensitive cases and that she would always take a call, at any time of the day or night.

“When she was manager of the central area committee, she dealt professionally in the frontline and was not afraid to get her hands dirty,” he said.

“When I heard about the comments, I was taken aback because that’s not the Eileen Gleeson I’ve been dealing with, and if it was it was human error.”

In a statement, the council said it “fully stands by” Gleeson’s comments at the Joint Policing Committee meeting.

“Dublin City Council recognises the genuine commitment of the significant amount of voluntary work carried out across the city, as people seek to provide additional help for homeless people,” it said.

The complexities of homelessness need to be understood and acknowledged by all those involved in responding to homelessness, particularly those that operate, plan and develop services. The DRHE is charged with responding to homelessness and ensuring that there are appropriate structures and services in place.

“Among the many challenges we face, is linking homeless people to professional and structured services, where long term positive outcomes are more achievable.  This is particularly pertinent to those experiencing long term homelessness or those that have difficulty engaging with services.

“It is critical that we engage with the people that need our services to provide more tailored supports that address their specific needs, so as to progress them from homelessness to a more appropriate housing solution.”

Read: ‘I am absolutely furious’ – Fr Peter McVerry criticises Taoiseach and senior council official for homeless comments>

Read: Gerry Adams: ‘Instead of being a Taoiseach for the elites, can’t you become a Taoiseach for the homeless?’>

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