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Cockroaches, mould and aggressive staff: Documents convey reality of life in homeless accommodation

New documents detail the issues facing people living in homeless emergency accommodation.

COCKROACHES, MOULD AND aggressive staff are just some of the issues people living in homeless emergency accommodation in Ireland say they face. 

Documents released to under the Freedom of Information Act detail the complaints and concerns raised by homeless people living in state-funded accommodation with Dublin City Council. 

This includes homeless hostels, private hotels and B&Bs. The dates of the documents range from 1 December 2018 to 29 May of this year. 

Latest figures from the Department of Housing show that 10,172 people were in emergency accommodation during the period recorded in June.

The figure consists of 6,497 adults and 3,675 children.

Issues raised include claims of cockroaches in bedrooms, blocked toilets, leaking ceilings and mould concerns.

All identifying data in the documents have been redacted in order to protect the privacy of the people involved. 

The complaints revealed here are similar to others reported in recent years. The documents repeatedly show complaints of health and safety issues.

Cockroaches and mould

Some of the conditions faced while living in homeless accommodation are laid bare by one complaint in which a person claims the accommodation they are in is “overrun with cockroaches”. 

“I’m in emergency accommodation in [redacted] and it’s overrun with cockroaches. I woke up this morning with a cockroach running [redacted],” the complainant said. 

“We can’t live like this anymore,” they continued. 

homeless1 DRHE DRHE

In another instance, a staff member wrote that a couple were staying in a basement room “full of damp and mould”. 

Another entry claims that some people living in emergency accommodation were advised of an issue with “condensation” and that they “need to ventilate the room regularly”. 

“They claim that the heating only comes on for an hour at a time and it is too cold to open windows,” the staff member wrote. 

“They also state there is no mirror in the bathroom and that they cannot get ready for work.” 

homeless2 DRHE DRHE

Accommodation standards

Issues with accommodation standards are a recurring trend within the documents, with numerous issues from blocked toilets to lumpy beds highlighted. 

In one entry dated March, a staff member said they had a lengthy call from a person in emergency accommodation in which she complained that her “toilet is constantly blocked, there is no hot water and there is an issue with the tap water”. 

In a response to this, another staff member said the issue of the hot water has been “sorted” and that the blocked toilet issue was to be fixed. 

“This happens from time to time as some clients continue (despite my best efforts) to put all kinds of things down the loo,” they wrote. 

Another complaint made to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) describes reports of a “very lumpy mattress/broken bed”. In the entry, it was detailed that the mother in question is seven months pregnant. 

In a complaint made in February, one person said that they feel being homeless is “getting unbearable”.

They alleged that the ceiling in their room “came through” as a result of “leaks for months” and that they have dealt with “some extremely aggressive and disrespectful staff”. 

homeless3 DRHE DRHE

The person claimed that the leaks “destroyed between 7-8 black bags of clothes, electrics and other belongings”. They also claimed that items had been stolen from their room. 

They continued: 

I am trying to keep strong and positive but it’s the hardest thing to do some days. I wear a mask for my child but underneath I feel broken. 

In a follow-up email from a staff member in relation to this, they claimed that the woman didn’t show anyone the destroyed clothes. 

“At no point did anyone of the staff who had gone in to the room after the overflow report any damage to any of the bags,” the staff member said.

Another entry outlines that one particular room in an emergency accommodation had “no ensuite bathroom” and that it was reported that “approximately 10 families have to share one bathroom”. 

Other complaints

In one case dated January 2019, a worker said residents in a particular emergency accommodation “were not informed” that renovation works were being to take place prior to the work starting. 

The staff member said someone stated that “there are building materials being left in the hallways” which she “feels is a health and safety concern”. 

In another instance, a staff member wrote that a tenant told them in January that “during the night her child had fallen out of the top bunk” of the bed. 

“She said there was no railings on the bed to prevent someone falling out. I saw a photo of the child and she had a swollen eye and bloodied nose,” they said. 

homeless4 DRHE DRHE

In a response, a DRHE representative said that they carried out a risk assessment of the beds as a result of the claims and that now a “sign is posted in each bedroom stating that the top bunk is only to be used by residents over six years of age”. 

“I am not sure why railings would be detachable on the bunk beds, this appears to be a health and safety concern. There should not be an option to remove railings from a top bunk where children are sleeping,” they said. 

Government criticism

Over the past few years, the government has come in for strong criticism for its use of hotels and unsuitable accommodation to house homeless people, particularly families.

June – the latest month for which figures are available - was the fifth consecutive month in which the figures remained over 10,000. 

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy came under fire over the news of the latest figures last month. 

Commenting at the time, Focus Ireland’s Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said: “There is a real danger that human stories get lost behind the numbers – especially during the summer months when the politicians are on holidays and people are enjoying the good weather. 

“There is no holiday or break from the almost constant stress for the over 10,000 people who are homeless.” 

Over the past couple of years, the government has been attempting to move away from hotel accommodation towards the group home “family hub” model. However, these hubs quickly came in for strong criticism from a number of quarters.  

In a statement to responding to the issues raised in the FOI documents, DRHE said that “standards have improved significantly recently with the introduction of the new family hubs and the new single adult accommodation”.

It added that it “actively pursues all complaints and has a formal complaints policy that deals with all complaints received”.

“The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has service level agreements with service providers which ensures compliance with all the statutory health and safety standards and to particular legislative requirements, including Children First act 2015 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.”

The DRHE and the four Dublin local authorities currently provide emergency accommodation for around 4,300 adults, which includes around 1,265 families. It claimed that “considering these figures, the number of complaints received is low”. 

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