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Explainer: How does a homeless family end up having to present at a Garda station for shelter?

12 families slept in parks, Garda stations or offices on Tuesday night as they had no place else to go.
May 25th 2017, 9:22 AM 18,459 94

AS MANY AS 12 families in Dublin slept in parks, Garda stations or offices on Tuesday night as they had no place else to go.

More and more families are becoming homeless every month, and many stay in private hotels for long periods at a time, due to the lack of adequate accommodation for them.

As the numbers continue to rise, the number of available beds shrink. The situation is by far at its worst in Dublin, which has about 80% of Ireland’s homeless families.

As well as this, coming into the summer and tourism season means hotels will be less likely to take families in.

The result is that more families will be presenting with fewer places to go.

So what happens when a family becomes homeless?

If a person or family finds themselves homeless in Dublin, they first have to present at the Central Placement Service on Parkgate Street where their needs are assessed, or call the Homeless Helpline.

The family’s needs are then assessed, and accommodation may be provided if it is available.

In many instances, however, there is no accommodation available, and families are told to source their own private hotels, which their local Dublin authority then pays for.

The family must contact the Dublin local authority once they have secured hotel accommodation. The local authority okays the selection on a case by case basis.

There is a cap on the amount of money a local authority will pay for a hotel, which is in the region of about €320 a night (but it is expected to be less).

Families are required to do this regularly, depending on how long they are able to book a room in a hotel.

Of the over 1,000 homeless families currently living in Dublin, about 200 are “self-accommodating”, that is, sourcing their accommodation themselves.

This involves ringing hotels all around the Dublin region and asking if there are any beds.

What happens if they can’t find beds?

Homeless support and advocacy charity Focus Ireland runs a coffee shop drop-in service on Eustace Street in Temple Bar.

Focus says that of these 200 self-accommodating families, about 25 to 30 come into the coffee shop on a daily basis as they are unable to source their own beds.

The families will usually come in later in the day after failing to find a place to stay themselves.

Focus is the main charity working with homeless families in Dublin. It works closely with the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive – which manages homeless services across the Dublin region. Some of its support services are also funded by the DRHE.

Charity workers then attempt to help the families source beds for the night.

They ring hotels across the whole of Dublin and beyond (as far as Drogheda, in some cases) trying to find a place for the families stay.

Failing this, Focus then goes back to the DRHE to say that no accommodation had been sourced.

The DRHE then has a small number of emergency beds that can be used (also called cold weather beds). These are usually family rooms in adult homeless hostels put aside for this purpose.

If there are no hotel beds available and all the emergency beds are full, that’s when the family is told to present at a Garda station for shelter. Essentially they are told that the State can’t provide accommodation for them on the night in question.

The DRHE said this is done as a last resort to “ensure safety for the families concerned”.

Is this a regular occurrence?

No. Director of Advocacy with Focus Ireland Mike Allen said that so far this year – apart from Tuesday night – there has only been one instance where a single homeless family was unable to source accommodation.

He said that a case where 12 families with over 30 children were unable to find some place to stay was unprecedented.

A spike in the number of families presenting as homeless, hotels being at an unusually high-capacity, or any number of reasons could have contributed to Tuesday night’s situation.

Will it happen again?

It’s hard to say.

The DRHE said that following Tuesday night it had doubled the volume of emergency beds available to any family that may present in an emergency situation.

However, as numbers continue to rise and hotels become busier in the summer period, available accommodation will continue to be strained.

Who is responsible/ How can it be prevented?

Focus Ireland has called for clearer guidelines on what local authorities should do in the situation of homeless families.

Mike Allen says that the laws to deal with homeless were first drafted to deal primarily with single homeless adults, and are ill-equipped to deal with the rising numbers of homeless families.

He said the laws needed to be updated in order to be better equipped to deal with homeless families.

The State has a legal obligation to house children with nowhere else to go.

If a person under the age of 18 presents as homeless alone, there are clear guidelines in place to help them.

However, when a family presents, the laws are murky and unclear, and there are no definitive guidelines on who is responsible for their care (the State is not legally obliged to provide shelter to homeless adults).

Focus for the past two years has been calling for clearer guidelines to be introduced, but the Government has said they are not needed.

Following a similar (but less severe) situation about two years ago, Mike Allen said the charity called on Enda Kenny to introduce proper safeguards.

However, Allen says the charity was told the guidelines did not need to be updated as the situation would not happen again.

Read: FactCheck: Are there more homeless people in Ireland now than at any time since the Famine?

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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