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Bed bugs, used needles and rat droppings - life inside homeless accommodation

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

shutterstock_727620538 Source: ANDRANIK HAKOBYAN via Shutterstock

DRUG USE, ABUSIVE staff, bed bugs and substandard room conditions are just some of the issues people living in homeless emergency accommodation in Ireland say they face every day.

Documents released to TheJournal.ie 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, group homes, private hotels and B&Bs. The dates of the documents range from December 2017 to June of this year.

Latest figures from the Department of Housing show that 9,872 people were in emergency accommodation during the week of 18-24 June, an increase of 26 people compared with the previous month.

The figure includes 6,048 adults and 3,824 children.

Issues raised include claims of bed bugs and rat droppings in bedrooms, leaks, drug paraphernalia found in rooms, lack of space, issues with staff members, and concerns over food provided.

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

Bed bugs and rats 

Some of the conditions faced while living in homeless accommodation are laid bare by one complaint in which a person claims there was an “outbreak of bed bugs” in their hotel in July.

“My room was badly affected. When I noticed bites on myself and my children I brought it to the attention of [REDACTED]. He accused me of bringing the bed bugs myself. I was really upset by this. the hotel did eventually relent and allowed me to move rooms at which point the problem ceased,” the complainant claimed.

The person went on to claim that more recently they have had an “issue with mice” in their room.

complaint 1 Source: DRHE

In another instance, a staff member writes that they received a call from a family who were “concerned that a rat was found according to one of her neighbours”.

“Following this, she checked her own apartment and found a significant amount of insects present in her kitchen cupboards,” the email outlines.

Another tenant complained in December 2017 that they had found a door behind furniture in their room, “opened it [and] found hundreds of rat droppings”.

‘Traces of heroin and needles’ 

Drug issues are a recurring trend within the documents, with numerous issues from drug paraphernalia to the smell of marijuana outlined.

In one complaint from March, a resident told a staff worker that she had “pulled out her wardrobe to find tin foil with traces of heroin, needles, [a] tray of prescription tablets and two empty bottles of vodka”.

complaint 2 Source: DRHE

Another complaint made to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) describes reports of “drug use and alcohol abuse” on the premises.

In a follow-up email, a DRHE representative said it had not received other reports of such concerns.

Meanwhile, another complaint states that a number of residents claimed that “people have been smoking in their rooms” and that they could “smell tobacco and marijuana”.

Responding to the complaint, a representative of DRHE said in an email: “One resident reported to us that he smelt marijuana. When a staff member went upstairs he could not smell anything.

“However, yesterday afternoon a small of marijuana was found in room [REDACTED] moved into the room on [REDACTED].”

Room standards 

In the seven months between December 2017 and June 2018, some 47 pages of complaints were received by DRHE.

Many of these pages contain complaints from tenants describing concerns over the standard of living in their emergency accommodation.

In one case dated December 2017, a worker said a tenant “complained about the room [being] cold and [a] smell of sewage”.

Another tenant wrote that the plug sockets in their room were “smoking and sizzling”, adding that “the wiring is dangerous, the plugs are all burnt and the hotel have had to replace electrical items in the room already”.

Other complaints include concerns over mould in a room, a lack of running hot water and poor heating.

A clerical worker wrote in January that a tenant had called and reported that the toilet in their room was cracked and that the sink was coming off the wall.

The issue of children living in emergency accommodation and the circumstances they have found themselves in has also been raised a number of times.

A complaint in May raised concerns over a child who was “playing in the house with other children” when the “house manager [REDACTED] became aggressive and started swearing at the children”.

complaint 3 Source: DRHE

“[REDACTED] became startled by this and tried to run away but [REDACTED] grabbed him by the neck and scratched his skin, leaving a red mark on [REDACTED] neck,” the complaint read.

“[REDACTED] then became verbally abusive to [REDACTED] and the family, telling them they could no longer be living in the house and slammed the door in [REDACTED].”

Another tenant said that they didn’t feel the accommodation was child-friendly, adding that there were “no toys for children to play with” in the designated playroom.

Meanwhile, another email outlines that a tenant believed “her rights are being violated by having to share a room/bed with her son”.

5606 Rebuilding Ireland_90534860 Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy Source: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Government criticism

The government has come in for strong criticism in recent years for its use of hotels and unsuitable accommodation to house homeless families.

June – the latest recorded homeless figures – was the third consecutive month in which the figures have risen, following a decrease in March when the Department removed a number of people from its figures after it claimed to have “erroneously” overstated previous numbers.

It also means that the total number has risen by 24% since June 2017, when Eoghan Murphy was named Housing Minister and 7,941 people were recorded as homeless.

Since then, child homelessness has increased by 35% from 2,895, while the number of homeless adults has risen by 20% from 5,046.

Commenting on the latest figures, Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said that “the crisis isn’t getting better no matter how many hubs are opened”.

“The minister has been reluctant to take measures to keep people in their homes,” he said.

“The government cannot continue to wring its hands and host summits when there are practical measures that can be taken to alleviate the crisis.”

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

In a statement accompanying the FOI documents sent to TheJournal.ie, 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 4,050 adults, which includes around 1,350 families across the Dublin Region.

With reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald

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