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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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'No one wants refugees to become homeless': Call to delay closure of Direct Provision centre

Nineteen refugees are among dozens of people searching for a new place to live.

Clondalkin Towers
Clondalkin Towers

THERE HAVE BEEN calls for the planned closure of a Direct Provision centre in Dublin to be postponed until the housing needs of residents with refugee or predicted status are rehomed.

The Clondalkin Towers centre, a former hotel, is set to close at the end of June. There were 235 people, including 78 children, living in the centre as of last month.

Up to 70 residents already have protected or leave-to-remain status and face having to find private rented accommodation; this figure includes 19 refugees. The other 150-plus residents are expected to be transferred to other DP centres if and when the centre closes.

At the start of October, residents were informed that the centre would close on 3 December as the company running the centre was not renewing its contract. However, a deal was later reached to keep the centre open until June. The company, Fazyard Ltd, was paid €27.5 million by the State from 2006 to 2015 for operating the centre.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Peter McVerry Trust (PMVT) have been helping residents source new accommodation, in a bid to prevent them becoming homeless, through the PATHS Project.

David Moriarty, Assistant Director of JRS, said many of the housing issues that led to the postponement of the centre’s closure on humanitarian grounds late last year still exist and need to be addressed.

Some residents previously told TheJournal.ie they are struggling to locate alternative accommodation for various reasons – the housing crisis and increasing rents, some landlords refusing to accept the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), and, in some cases, racism.

125 people rehomed 

The PATHS Project has rehomed 125 people (43 households, both families and individuals) since March 2017, including 107 residents from Clondalkin Towers. Three more people are expected to move out of the centre in the coming days.

The remainder of people who were rehomed are former residents of a DP centre in Knockalisheen, Co Limerick, where the scheme has been rolled out on a smaller scale in recent months.

The project is supported by the Department of Justice and is ahead of schedule in its goal to resettle 140 people by the end of 2019.

It involves sourcing housing, providing transportation for viewings and move-ins, support in overcoming language barriers, liaising with landlords and local authorities, ensuring all HAP documentation is completed, support with transfer of benefits from one location to another, and support to sustain tenancies once they are secured.

Moriarty told TheJournal.ie JRS ran a clinic once or twice a week at Clondalkin Towers for about 18 months but that this ramped up to five days a week when the closure of the centre was initially announced in October.

In the last quarter of the 2018, 20 people (nine households) were rehomed. Five households have secured accommodation so far this year. Of those who have been moved to date, 18 households are currently located in the south Dublin area and the remaining 25 households are based across north Dublin, Co Louth, Co Meath and Co Cavan.

Moriarty said a social worker assesses a family or person’s needs and tries to match them with suitable accommodation. The social worker arranges viewings of private rented accommodation or sources an alternative property.

“Individuals or households will present and will be needs-assessed – family size, educational needs, medical needs, preference for location, etc. We create a profile for each household and try to match them with accommodation to meet their needs.

“We match them with available viewings online or source non-public property – this might be provided through partner organisations or a congregation making property available – non Daft.ie models basically,” Moriarty explained.

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-23 at 12.25.05 A bedroom in Clondalkin Towers

The PATHS Project initially focused on refugees but due to the imminent closure of the centre, it has been extended to help anyone with protected or leave-to remain status.

Moriarty said the biggest challenges facing residents is the lack of availability of suitable properties, noting: “We are at the mercy of the market in that regard.” He said the current market is difficult for any potential renters to navigate but added:

People living in institutionalised settings who are denied rights to employment are at a considerable disadvantage at the outset.

“There are just not that many properties out there, it’s so competitive. People are not securing property in as timely a manner as we want…

“Otherwise they could end up in a situation where they find themselves accessing homeless service, that’s something none of us want to happen.”

Third centre to close 

The timing of the expected closure of the centre is far from ideal. A number of DP centres around the country are oversubscribed, including Clondalkin Towers.

The government has paid over €1.6 million to a private contractor to source emergency accommodation for asylum seekers since September 2018; close to 200 people are living in hotels and B&Bs in the Cavan-Monaghan area.

Meanwhile, hotels in Leitrim and Donegal earmarked as future DP centres have been the subject of suspected arson attacks in recent months.

The Department of Justice or Fazyard Ltd did not respond to a request for comment in relation to the closure of Clondalkin Towers potentially being postponed on humanitarian grounds. 

The department is trying to source an alternative location for a DP centre in the area. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) has sought expressions of interest from service providers for premises within 40km of Newbridge in Co Kildare, which would cover the Clondalkin area.

A spokesperson for the department said it would be “inappropriate to comment on any prospective tender bid that may be participating in an ongoing public procurement process”. The procurement process is expected to be concluded in the coming weeks.

The centre in Clondalkin is currently the largest DP centre in the capital. Two centres in Dublin city closed last year: the Georgian Court centre on Gardiner Street, which housed 80 people, closed last February; and the centre at Watergate Hall on Usher’s Quay, where 52 people lived, closed in July.

552869_orig A common room in Clondalkin Towers

The department’s spokesperson said the fact people are staying in DP centres for some time after they receive a protection status or permission to remain “is putting increased pressure on the system”. Under EU regulations, Ireland must accommodate new arrivals who apply for asylum here.

Applicants who have been granted status or a permission to remain – either because their claim for international protection has been accepted or on other discretionary grounds – should no longer be residing in accommodation centres as they have the same housing, social welfare and other rights as everyone else.

“Considerable work is being done by the Department to support residents with status or permission to remain to move out of accommodation centres and to secure long-term accommodation,” the spokesperson noted.

A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council said residents of Clondalkin Towers are “eligible to make an application for social housing support and each application is individually assessed and the applicant made aware of the decision following assessment”.

“If they are not accepted on the social housing list, they can re-apply in future if their circumstances change,” they stated.

‘Living in limbo’ 

Moriarty stated that people in DP who receive refugee or protected status can find themselves in “limbo” if they have received the initial letter telling them they are going to be granted status but not the formal declaration.

“People get the initial letter, but then it could be months and months until they receive the ministerial recognition. They can’t go on housing list or access mainstream support until then. In practical terms, they can’t access the support they need to enable them to leave Direct Provision.”

He said this is “a very real issue”, noting: “If a person can’t access the support and mainstream services, they can’t leave the centre – this can be quite traumatic.

They could be waiting such a long period to get permission to stay and they again find themselves in that limbo stage, where they are neither one nor the other.

Moriarty said the PATHS Project helps people to get access to the Enhanced HAP, also known as Homeless HAP, which “allows them to compete more” when searching for somewhere to rent.

hallway A hallway in Clondalkin Towers Source: orla

A spokesperson for PMVT noted that the organisation secured recognition that people in Clondalkin Towers with leave-to-remain or protected status “are in fact homeless and thus were able to avail of Homeless HAP from South Dublin County Council”.

In relation to HAP, they noted that landlords refusing to accept it “is an everyday reality for people we work with not just in Clondalkin Towers but across our homeless services too”.

The spokesperson added that PMVT and its partners in the RIA and Dublin Region Homeless Executive will “make every effort to prevent any of the 70 [residents with status] from needing to enter homeless services”.

“Our energy is about progressing as many people into housing as possible and we are determined to exceed our targets.”

They added that in the past when it has been shown that move-ons can be achieved “it has helped to re-motivate others and created a domino effect as people progress more make the effort to achieve similar outcomes”. 

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Órla Ryan

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