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Fr Peter McVerry calls for immediate closure of Merchants Quay Night Cafe

The homelessness campaigner has hit out at the quality of beds on offer, and called some hostels “a disgrace”.

Updated 7.30pm

FR PETER MCVERRY has called for the immediate closure of the Merchants Quay Night Café, and taken issue with claims from Dublin City Council that there are enough emergency beds for every homeless person who needs one.

The veteran homelessness campaigner has taken issue with an affidavit from the head of the Council’s homeless agency given in court at yesterday’s Apollo House hearing. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive director, Dáithí Downey, said that there was a bed available for every homeless person who needed one.

The latest rough sleeper count in the city, conducted a month ago, found that 142 people were bedding down in public areas – with an additional 77 people sleeping on a mat on the floor of the Merchants Quay facility.

17/11/2015 Peter McVerry Homeless Problems Crisis Fr Peter McVerry Source: Leah Farrell

McVerry, who gave an affidavit in court yesterday in support of the activists who have turned Apollo House into an accommodation centre for the homeless, said people who called the Council’s freephone hotline to seek emergency shelter were being sent to sleep on the floor of the Night Cafe instead of being given a proper bed.

He welcomed the opening of an additional beds since the rough sleeper count was conducted, saying that 210 extra places would be available by January, but described the quality of some of the existing emergency hostels as “a disgrace”.

“Every day in our drop in centre I have homeless people coming in to me to say they were told last night on the freephone there are no beds available, come down and collect a sleeping bag,” McVerry told RTÉ’s News at One.

There aren’t enough beds. And the lie to what Dublin City Council is saying is evident in the fact that the Merchant’s Quay Night Cafe, which accommodates up to 70 people sleeping on the floor [...] they are sent there by Dublin City Council because Dublin City Council are telling them they don’t have a bed for them within the system.
How Dublin City Council can sign and affidavit and go to court and say there is a bed for everybody – I just find that baffling.

Opened in 2014 to combat the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of Dublin, the Merchants Quay Night Cafe accommodates dozens of people each night. Crowds gather outside each evening – and people bed down on mats laid out in one of the complex’s rooms.

Last year, a superviser at the facility – which is located on the south quays close to Christ Church Cathedral - told TheJournal.ie that around a quarter of people who stay there each night are serious drug users.

merch Mats laid out at Merchants Quay for people to sleep on Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

In response to McVerry’s remarks, Merchants Quay Ireland said it shares the concern that the Night Café is “not an adequate response [to rough sleeping], as all people who are homeless should have access to a bed in a safe and dignified setting”.

The statement continues: “However, in the current situation, where there is a shortage of accommodation and more people are becoming homeless, the MQI Night Café is certainly a preferable option than leaving people to sleep on the streets.

“The MQI Night Café is not the solution to homelessness and rough sleeping; the real solutions lie in the provision of appropriate emergency accommodation and adequate move-on housing options.

“However, the MQI Night Café continues to perform a vital function for people unable to access emergency accommodation and whose only other option would be to sleep on the streets…

The MQI Night Café is fully staffed by a multidisciplinary team focussed on providing options and solutions to people who are sleeping on the streets, whether that be through drug treatment, and mental health supports or links to specialised accommodation options or employment and welfare supports. To date 90% of those who have accessed the service have engaged these supports to one degree or another…

“MQI’s vision would be for a society in which the Night Café would not be required. In the current environment, however, where homelessness is a growing problem, the MQI Night Café service provides consistent and professional supports to rough sleepers whose needs are not otherwise being met.”

Apollo House 

Speaking today, McVerry said the occupation of Apollo House by the Home Sweet Home group had re-ignited people’s anger about homelessness, and started a much-needed debate.

He said the focus needed to be on the quality of beds provided to vulnerable homeless people – not just on the number available.

In addition to the problems at the Night Café, he said some of the existing emergency hostels were ”an affront to the dignity of homeless people”.

Many of the venues weren’t safe, he claimed. Often people who are drug free, he said, are forced to share dormitory style accommodation with drug users – and in some cases with dealers who pressure them to use drugs.

Speaking earlier, the deputy CEO of Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny, said it was hoped the spaces at Merchants Quay would be phased out in the next few months.

“They’re not ideal. They’re seen as a last resort,” he told Morning Ireland. Kenny said he didn’t agree with McVerry’s assessment of the state of some emergency hostels, and highlighted efforts the Council was making to move people into longer-term accommodation.

He said that on Sunday night there had been 16 emergency bed spaces free in the city, and that fifteen were free on Monday night.

Asked about those figures, McVerry said that people often had good reasons for not taking up bed places – and that in a small number of cases each night, people were able to make alternative arrangements at the last minute, and sleep in a friend’s house.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

Read: “We’re ready to go in” – Dublin City Council has team on standby to enter Apollo House >

Read: “We’d starve without them” – Over 2,000 people lined up to get Christmas food parcels this morning >

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