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Homeless people pictured in Dublin this morning. Sam Boal/

Dublin Regional Homeless Executive increases emergency bed capacity amid cold spell

‘Homeless organisations and local authorities work really well’ during cold weather emergencies, said the Executive Director of the Simon Communities.

DUBLIN REGIONAL HOMELESS EXECUTIVE (DRHE) has put its extreme weather emergency protocol into place amid the current cold spell.

It comes as a Status Orange weather warning for snow and ice has been issued in Leinster from midnight until the morning.

In a statement to The Journal, the DRHE said: “The DRHE increased bed capacity as part of the Cold Weather Strategy, which commenced in November 2022. All emergency accommodation is provided on a 24-hour basis with meals.  

“Extreme Weather contingency beds are temporary and activated for the period of the alert, these are provided by NGO partners on behalf of the DRHE.”

Speaking to The Journal, the Executive Director of the Simon Communities of Ireland Wayne Stanley noted that “homeless organisations and local authorities do work really well” in response to cold weather emergencies.

“We see people go above and beyond and because of the immediacy of it,” said Stanley, “we would see increases in outreach and working with people who are more vulnerable to encourage them to come in.

“So this is something we do respond well to and there’s a mechanism there where the local authorities and the NGOs work together and step up in these kinds of cold weather initiatives.”

In “rare cases” where people don’t take up offers of emergency accommodation, Stanley said there are “regular check-ins to make sure they’re safe and we’re providing every sort of possibility to make sure they’re kept safe and warm”.

He added that it’s all about “building relationships and confidence”.

“If people, for whatever reason, don’t feel safe and secure, we have professional staff who go out and work and engage with people and build trust, and that’s how we support them to come in.

“And that happens year round, but those relationships are particularly important at times of cold weather to make sure people are kept safe.”

Stanley also said that during period of extreme weather, the Simon Community “stretch our capacity to ensure nobody is turned away, and that has included putting people wrapped in blankets in every nook and cranny”.

However, Mike Allen, director of advocacy at Focus Ireland, acknowledged that it’s “difficult” to respond to emergencies like this.

“I think this would be true for every homeless organisation,” he adds.

Focus Ireland provides services for homeless people across the country, particularly young people.

Allen told The Journal that while Focus Ireland “isn’t a big provider of emergency accommodation, it makes beds available during periods like these.

“We let people sleep in the coffee shop overnight during a freezing period, but we don’t think that would be suitable normally.”

While Allen said the money going to homelessness organisations has gone up, he added: “The funding going homelessness organisations has not gone up in line with inflation over the last number of years.”

As a result, he said services are “finding it hard to recruit the experienced, skilled staff that we need for all these sort of roles.”

“So all the staff are under a lot of stress,” said Allen. “So we’re going to staff that are already under pressure and saying, ‘we need to re-roster you to 24 hour service’.

“People do it and they rise to the challenge but I wouldn’t underestimate the demands on those workers to reschedule to be able to provide those services.

“It’s a really hard stretch for services are already under enormous pressure to reorientate to cover a 24 hour cycle.”

But the head of advocacy at Focus Ireland worried that these working conditions may become normalised.

“There’s a constant fear that we get pushed to start doing these sorts of things on a day-to-day basis, and things that should only happen if there’s a natural disaster begin to become normal because it’s essentially a policy disaster.”

Allen added that it’s “crucial” that the wages of people in frontline services are increased in line with inflation.

“It is really crucial that that happens, otherwise there won’t be the skilled staff to do the job,” he warns.

Allen also expressed “grave concern” over asylum seekers and whether they are eligible for emergency accommodation during the cold spell. 

In a statement to The Journal, the Irish Refugee Council said: “We remain deeply concerned about international protection applicants not being provided accommodation. This is a direct breach of Irish law, as acknowledged by ministers in recent statements.

“At least 150 people who are homeless have contacted us in the last six weeks. Many of the people who have contacted us are desperate, exhausted and some have health problems made worse by having to sleep rough.

“Current projections are that a significant number of people will not be accommodated for the foreseeable future.”

The Irish Refugee Council spokesperson added that the organisation has “written to government twice (24 January and 10 February) to request basic information so that we can support people” but that they have not received a response to either letter.

“If people are not going to be offered accommodation it is essential that services, support, information and structure be put in place,” said the statement from the Irish Refugee Council.

“In our experience, from working with people who have not been offered accommodation, these requirements are not in place. This is shocking and of deep dismay.”

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