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Homeless providers say an 'excess' of food services in Dublin 'undermines' their work

The review examined statutory-funded day services for Dublin’s homeless population.

File image of crowds gathering at a soup kitchen in Dublin.
File image of crowds gathering at a soup kitchen in Dublin.
Image: Niall Carson

A UCD REPORT commissioned by Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) has found that additional on-street food services for homeless people “are not required” and has recommended that these services should be regulated. 

The review, drawn up by UCD’s School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice,  examined five statutory-funded day services for Dublin’s homeless population.

The review examined day services for homeless people pre-Covid and interviewed representatives from DRHE-funded services. Homeless people were not interviewed for the review nor were charitably-funded day services. 

According to the review, recent years have seen a “dramatic expansion” in on-street, voluntary food services which are unconnected to DRHE-funded day services like Capuchin Day Centre, Merchants Quay Ireland, Focus and Crosscare.

Service providers interviewed for the review said that an “excess provision” of food in Dublin is a result of an increase in soup runs and volunteers providing sandwiches.

They said that providing food at their day service was a “vital hook” to engage homeless people so that they are able to access additional, follow-on services, the review notes. 

The majority of DRHE-funded day services are focused on making sure homeless people – or those at-risk of homelessness – can access basic needs like food, shelter and showers as well as engagement and support, according to the review.

The only day service area where there appears to be significant over-provision in Dublin currently is food services, it says. 

“This is due primarily to the increase in the on-street provision of food to homeless people by the informal and entirely volunteer-led services which have emerged in Dublin in recent years,” according to the review.

“Although there is no doubt that the volunteers who provide these services do so with the best possible intentions to help homeless people, there is little evidence that these additional food services are required.”

Providers of DRHE-funded day services who were interviewed for the report “argued convincingly” that this on-street provision of food to homeless services undermines their effectiveness” by reducing their ability to engage effectively with clients and to refer them on to the wider suite of support services these day services can provide.”

‘Food Needs’

In addition, the review also found a number of gaps in existing DRHE-funded day services including the provision of specialised primary and secondary healthcare for homeless people. 

The most commonly mentioned service gap by day service providers – aside from health services – was specialist professional support for very complex cases and prevention of homelessness. 

The review found that migrants and single women are currently underserved by DRHE-funded day services and said there is a need for strategic planning regarding future provision.

Furthermore, the review recommends that DRHE should work with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the HSE to devise a strategy to manage the growth in on-street provision of food to homeless people by volunteers.

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“This strategy should focus on ensuring that homeless people’s food needs are met primarily by DRHE and established charitably funded day services which provide appropriate indoor dining facilities and hot food,” the review says. 

Reacting to the review’s findings, Inner City Helping Homeless spokesperson and Dublin City Councillor Anthony Flynn said it was an issue that needed to be addressed but that demand for on-street food services had risen in recent years. 

“Over the last number of years there has been a visual increase in demand for services,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“Many services who operate voluntary soup kitchens within the city are not only providing for the homeless community but also for the thousands of people who are living in food poverty across the city.

“The reality is that these on-street soup kitchens are merely a sticking plaster for a major societal problem, food poverty, as there are 700,000 people, including shockingly 200,000 children, living with food poverty in Ireland.”

He added: “Instead of looking to regulate people who are serving so many through empathy & compassion the DRHE should work with these groups to direct homeless individuals in the best manner.

“The DRHE have a continuous tone of challenging volunteers who work with the homeless, in many cases doing the work that systemic state failings have produced.”

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