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'I am absolutely furious' - Fr Peter McVerry criticises Taoiseach and senior council official for homeless comments

The head of Dublin City Council’s homelessness body is coming in for widespread criticism for her comments.

TWO OF THE country’s most experienced homelessness campaigners have criticised the head of Dublin City Council’s homelessness body for comments made at the council’s policing committee meeting yesterday.

Eileen Gleeson of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said that homelessness often resulted from years of “bad behaviour” and could not be solved by unauthorised groups handing out food.

“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,” Gleeson told the Council’s policing committee yesterday.

She added:

If they’re only getting a cup of soup and they’re homeless it isn’t helpful.

Gleeson’s remarks were covered on the front page of the Irish Times today and have been widely criticised this morning.

Brother Kevin Crowley, who runs the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, said he was appalled at the comments.

The centre, located close to the city centre on Bow Street, provides breakfast and lunch for people who are homeless, in addition to handing out food parcels each Wednesday.

“We have people leaving here in the evening times, after 3.30 after having a dinner,” Brother Kevin told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One this morning.

Some of those people are walking the streets at nighttime and certainly they’re glad to get a cup of tea or a cup of soup because otherwise what will they do for the rest of the night if they don’t get something to eat or to drink?

Father Peter McVerry, who also spoke to the programme, said he admired Brother Kevin’s restraint on the issue.

He went on to strongly criticise Gleeson’s comments, and also took aim at Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for recent comments on the issue.

08 FILE PIC Child Homelessness_90520313 Fr Peter McVerry

What did Leo say? 

Answering questions from TheJournal.ie on Saturday, Varadkar said that Ireland had “one of the lowest levels of homelessness” – despite a record number of people living in emergency accommodation.

Junior housing minister Damien English defended Varadkar’s remarks in the Dáil yesterday and said negative coverage of the homelessness crisis was damaging to Ireland’s international reputation. English also referenced an OECD report which, he said, “sees Ireland in the top tier of 30 international nations”.

Speaking to Sean O’Rourke, McVerry said:

“I am absolutely furious at what Eileen Gleeson was saying, furious at what the Taoiseach said the other day.

It started with the Taoiseach when he said we had a low level of homelessness compared to other countries. He’s actually quoting an OECD report from 2015 which is now out of date and which explicitly states in the report that you cannot use the report to compare homelessness between countries because countries use different definitions of homelessness.

Other countries included people who were staying with friends or relatives because they could not find alternative accommodation, he said.

If Ireland’s figures – which cover the number of people in emergency accommodation – were calculated in the same way, McVerry said, “our figures would be around 70,000 or 80,000″.

McVerry said that Eileen Gleeson’s comments about years of bad behaviour were “an insult to many homeless people”.

People often became homeless over a very short period of time, McVerry said, because of evictions or rent increases.

Gleeson, who had spoken to the programme before Brother Kevin and Peter McVerry, came back on the line to respond to McVerry’s remarks but said she did not want to engage in an on-air row with the campaigner.

Asked about her widely-reported comments yesterday, she told the host that unauthorised volunteers who help the homeless were well intentioned, but that their intervention can prevent those in need from availing of supports from professionals.

She said that homelessness was complicated and there are standards and requirements that must be met in providing services, particularly when dealing with vulnerable adults and children.

Homelessness is complicated. In providing services there’s requirements and standards that should be met particularly when dealing with vulnerable adults and children… They have particular problems and they need to be worked with.

She told Sean O’Rourke it would be more beneficial if volunteers linked in with the professional services, such as Simon and Focus, in providing outreach services. She stressed several times that it was important to get people longer term help.

If we’re to solve the homelessness crisis, we must do it in a structured way. People continuing to help them with soup and sandwiches, while it’s well intentioned, it isn’t going to solve the problem and it would be much more beneficial if volunteers would link into the existing services.

Gleeson said the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive doesn’t provide food or drinks to people sleeping rough, but that they do provide important details of services. There were also day services providing food and drinks, Gleeson said.

We have medical services, shower facilities, language translation, harm reduction, laundry facilities. We have them, we’re funding them. They’re already in the system.

When asked about Gleeson’s comments, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said today that he would have thought that “any support or any contributions to help people who are homeless are of course are welcome”.

He surmised that what he thought was meant by Gleeson was that it would be “better” to have that kind of work centralised through the work that government and charities do.

“All of us want to bring about change,” he said.

Related: Government’s top housing adviser: ‘Homelessness is a normal thing’ >

Read: Leo Varadkar: ‘Ireland has one of the lowest levels of homelessness’ >

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