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Homeless children should be accommodated outside Dublin city centre, says Ombudsman

The use of garda stations as the access point for homelessness services should also be reconsidered, according to a new report by Emily Logan.

Image: Photocall Ireland!

THE PRACTICE OF accommodating children at risk of homelessness in Dublin city centre should cease, according to the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.

In a new report highlighting the experiences of young people who have been homeless at certain times in their lives, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office said such living arrangements in the city centre exposes children to unacceptable risks and increases the likelihood of harmful and criminal behaviour.

As much as possible, children should be located in or close to their original, local community, the OCO suggested.

The report also advised against using short-term, hostel-style accommodation as a model for those under 18-years-old, stating that the provision of so-called night beds should end.

Logan’s office questioned the suitability of garda stations as the access point for children to reach out to homelessness services.

Currently, there is no out-of-hours service which means that children who need emergency accommodation are required to present at a garda station to wait for a social worker.

Many children shy away from asking for support because of the garda station connection, the report found. Others told researchers that they found the process humiliating and frightening, despite being treated well by members of the Gardaí.

One child describes the experience:

When you’re waiting in a Garda station, you have to see other stuff happening, like…people might be coming in getting arrested. Like, when I was there…I had to see them dragging a girl through to a cell and all that kind of thing…I’m able for it, but if I was a younger child that had to have been waiting for out-of-hours, I’m not sure how they would cope.

The Ombudsman said that children should be given the option as presenting as homeless in a less intimidating setting and a freephone number should be established so social work services can be easily accessed.

Logan said she decided to carry out the consultation with young people who had experienced homelessness because a first-hand awareness of the experiences and the perspectives of teenagers would strengthen her office’s understanding of issues that can arise.

She had also wanted to initiate an examination of homelessness services for children as she had many concerns in the area following her 2009 Annual Report. However, the HSE advised her that they were taking actions to mitigate her concerns and the investigation is on hold to allow for more progress to be made.

In terms of emergency care placements, children explained how the experience could be debilitating and damaging.

Children who cannot return home and for whom an alternative medium- or long-term care placement cannot be found quickly should be offered some measure of stability and the practice of presenting on a day-to-day basis should cease, said Logan.

Fifteen children were interviewed throughout the study. One had stayed in emergency accommodation for three nights prior to returning to live with relatives on a long-term basis, while two had used Dublin-based services for more than six months and had been placed in five different homes.

Uncertainty was a central part of the overall experience, according to the interviewees.

One teenager described her first experience of a care home: “When you’re in care for that first time, you’re all over the place…and…one thing that needs to stay the same is the place you stay in…You get depressed over it because you feel ‘Does anybody care?’…You don’t feel like someone is caring over you. And no matter how old you are – people don’t admit it, but it’s true – you need someone to care for you.”

Here is a selection of other quotes from the children interviewed, who are now all aged between 16 and 19:

On Garda stations:

You feel…disgusting…feels horrible…miserable…Feels like you’re a junkie or something like that. Not a junkie, but like it just feels bad. Just sitting in a Garda station and waiting for a hostel van to come and pick you up. That’s just wrong.

On being on the streets:

I ran away…and I was on the streets for three days…We had about twelve jumpers on us and two pairs of tracksuit bottoms on us to keep us warm and we’d just keep walking around  to try to keep our blood flowing and not get cold…

On the first time in care:

I went by myself…I was real nervous. I didn’t know what to do. It was my first time being homeless and I didn’t really know what to do…I just felt real nervous because I felt like people were watching me all the time and it just felt real weird.

On being placed:

I ended up staying there much longer than anybody had planned…When you’re in that situation, you don’t know what to think anymore…It can kind of mess up with your head. I could have been a person that was very fragile, you know? I could have been depressed, you know, I could have committed suicide if I was somebody else…Really, I didn’t know what to do anymore.

On coping:

You have to sort of put on a front…You have to sort of make yourself look, not make yourself look, but be strong…don’t be weak in front of them [peers] because they’d eat you alive…You’d be bullied.

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On being misunderstood:

Even people I would know, some of my old friends, don’t talk to me because I’m in care. It’s all on you and you’re just a person…And I think it’s not right…I just don’t think you can blame a child for everything, do you know?…I think a lot of kids in care are…very misunderstood…

On social workers:

The out-of-hours social workers take you into the car and…they just talk to you like you’re normal…It’s not real formal or anything. He was real funny. And he just kept telling me loads of jokes and…I swear to God, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much and nearly been crying at the same time…They’re actually very good, they are.
You need someone from the HSE to not just sympathise with you, but empathise with you, know what you’re really going through…and not try and push you in a different way…It’s important to have somebody there to do the best thing for you… instead of having…such a struggle with them.

On education:

The social workers felt it would be a better place for me and I thought it would be as well. But the problem was it was so far away. I had to take two buses into school and I had to get up at…five o’clock in the morning…It was just very, very tiring… It just made everything ten times harder because I didn’t have time to sit down and study… Sometimes I’d have to just hope I’d get into school early enough to do a bit of my homework.
It was challenging because I didn’t have a uniform and everyone in school was just looking at me and I was wearing the same clothes, but the staff used to wash them for me every night. But I just felt real scruffy. Like I knew I was out of place in school, but it was the best thing for me.

On a bad situation:

You could be in a very bad place that you would trust anybody – or you’re looking for…some type of love because you don’t see your family most of the time…You’re looking for someone to hang around with…but that can be the wrong people and most of the time it is…I found people that prey around those places.

On being in the city:

If you let town take over you, town will get you…Like I’ve seen people move…into town and…they just turn into dirt birds…It’s not a community, do you know what I mean? It’s a city…Town isn’t your home.

On the homes:

It’s a kip…it’s cold and…it just looks proper like an orphanage, like you’re just being dumped there…It looks real scary…Like the staff in there are lovely but just the look of the place. It’s a real rundown place.

On having something to do:

I think they should have something better and something more for people to do instead of sitting around in the streets all day…I was just drinking, I was just doing whatever. They just go on the sniff. Go on the drink.

On being at home:

I suppose it does feel a little bit like a home…You have the shower, you had a washing machine there, you had your own room and there was a sitting room, it looked a lot like a home, you know?…couches and TV you could watch and things like that.

On moving on:

I’ve come an awful long way… I’ve gotten an awful lot of support out of all of them services… I’ve a more positive outlook on life and I basically respect my life a lot more than I used to.

Download the full OCO – Homeless Truths report>

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