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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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Pregnant mother 'had to view men exposing themselves to her and her son' in homeless accommodation

Newly released documents give an insight into the conditions in which homeless families are living.

Image: Shutterstock/altanaka

ENTIRE FAMILIES SQUEEZED into hotel rooms, children exposed to violence and drug-taking, mould, damp, bed bugs, scabies, blood-stained mattresses, rats and abuse.

The situation facing many homeless adults and families living in emergency accommodation in Dublin is dire, newly released documents show.

TheJournal.ie has obtained documents released under the Freedom of Information Act that detail the complaints and issues of people living in homeless emergency accommodation in Dublin throughout the year.

The complaints are sent to the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE), which manages homeless services in Dublin.

They include many instances involving families with young children staying in privately operated hotels and B&Bs.

There are now at least 1,026 homeless families with 2,110 children in Dublin alone, the vast majority of whom are in this type of accommodation.

The documents paint a stark picture of homelessness in Dublin and the effect it is having on children and families.

For data protection reasons, all names and locations of residents and establishments are redacted in the documents.

The documents in many cases also outline responses and reports of officers designated to inspect the issues raised.

Complaints

In one complaint dated from January, residents state that they have been pricked by a needle while in their room in their accommodation.

When an officer inspects the room, they find “the needle of a syringe has been lodged into the seam of the mattress, with the tip of the needle protruding outwards”.

FOI5 The response of the officer inspecting a room. Source: DRHE via FOI

Another instance from June outlines very serious issues raised by a pregnant woman living in emergency accommodation in Dublin city centre with her child, who is diagnosed with autism.

The complaint comes via a Focus Ireland Homeless Action Team (HAT) worker who is assisting the family.

The woman in question states that there is “mould and damp in the bedroom” and an “infestation of insects under the dampness on the ground”.

The family’s accommodation is next door to a single person’s unit. The woman alleges that she has experienced a lot of serious anti-social behaviour as a result of this.

While she was waiting to be let into her accommodation, the HAT worker states:

During this time, the customer has encountered a number of anti-social behaviour issues. She has had to view men exposing themselves to her and her son, women urinating in front of them and prostitution.

In yet another serious instance, a letter sent by a solicitor on behalf of their client outlines conditions in her accommodation.

HOMELESS (2) The solicitor's letter to the DRHE Source: DRHE via FOI

The woman in question has two children, one of whom is blind and the other who suffers from a developmental delay. She is also pregnant with a third child.

The solicitor’s letter outlines how the woman and her children have been “exposed to needles, rodents and general filth” while at their accommodation.

Families

The documents date from 4 January to 30 September. In that time the complaints to the DRHE around homeless accommodation numbered 175 (coming from both homeless people and accommodation staff, manager, etc).

There are multiple accounts of:

  • Children suffering with asthma due to mould and improper heating in the rooms
  • Families suffering from scabies
  • Children being kept awake by pubs and clubs adjacent to their rooms
  • Inadequate cooking and cleaning facilities and
  • Significant overcrowding

One complaint from January appears to come from a doctor’s surgery. It states that a mother is claiming the conditions she is staying in with her family is worsening her son’s asthma. Her daughter is also diagnosed with scabies.

FOI4 The letter appearing to come from the doctor's surgery. Source: DRHE via FOI

The woman also says “there’s damp in the home and also slugs etc coming through an air vent”.

In another complaint, a social worker writes to the DRHE pleading on behalf of a vulnerable mother with a toddler. The social worker states that the mother has no supports, no cooking facilities and has a history of self-harm and mental health issues.

In yet another complaint, a mother states that the room she was given was in terrible condition, stating:

I’ve decided to stay at my friends with my child because I don’t feel safe and I can’t sleep and can’t stop crying.

At one point a Project Estate Officer (who inspects accommodation and follows up on complaints on behalf of the DRHE) visits accommodation following a complaint of:

Accommodation… infected with bed bugs… bed when they took off the cover was covered in blood and urine marks.

The officer finds serious breaches of fire safety and the accommodation to be filthy.

The officer states:

Generally the property and a number of the client rooms are filthy, this includes floor coverings, woodwork, bedding, furniture, etc.

There are numerous other complaints similar to those outlined above.

Response 

Responding to the issues raised in the documents, Grainia Long CEO of ISPCC said that it was “deeply concerning” that families with young children felt the need to complain.

“The complaints received relate to children being exposed to anti-social behaviour, public urination and prostitution,” said Long.

As the national child protection charity, the ISPCC has been vocal on the unacceptability of this type of environment for children, and we have warned about the child protection and child welfare issues that it presents.

The ISPCC is concerned that children’s human rights are being breached in a number of areas relating to the use of hotels and B&Bs as emergency accommodation.

“Today, the ISPCC reiterates the call we have made to the State several times over the last year – to outlaw use of emergency accommodation for homeless children from 2018 onwards,” said Long.

A spokesperson for the DRHE said all 175 complaints “were fully investigated and were resolved in a timely manner”.

“The DRHE ensures compliance with all statutory health and safety standards for homeless service provision and notes there is formal policy for providers of emergency accommodation in terms of standards required,” the spokesperson said.

Our aim is to ensure that all persons who access accommodation whether in hotels or emergency provision have a safe, clean and comfortable environment that is peaceful and respectful of each person’s’ situation.

The Government has previously committed to ending hotel use to house homeless families by the middle of next year, however as we reported in July, many experts believe that will not be possible.

Read: Homeless Ireland 2016 series

Read: ‘Don’t let us die’: Homeless men’s fears as makeshift camp on south Dublin green 

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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