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DCC's Keegan says criticism 'near hysterical' over him calling homeless services 'attractive' option

That is according to correspondence obtained by TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information.

Garth Brooks tour fiasco Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan Source: PA Archive/PA Images

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL’s chief executive Owen Keegan described reaction to comments he made saying people may be reluctant to leave homeless services in Dublin because they are now “an attractive” option as “near hysterical”.

As first reported in the Sunday Business Post in February, Keegan said that the massive investment in homeless services over the past number of years has led to a reluctance on the part of some homeless people to move on due to “higher-quality spaces”. 

“So homeless services are… The more you do, the more it becomes attractive,” he said.

“This is not questioning people’s motives, but Dublin is a major draw for people who are homeless because there is a very wide range of service provision.”

His remarks were heavily criticised by homeless service providers and politicians in the days that followed. 

“Families are not in emergency accommodation because it is ‘attractive’,” Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD said at the time. “They are homeless because of a lack of social and affordable homes.”

Documents obtained by TheJournal.ie under Freedom of Information have now shown Keegan referring to the criticism as “near hysterical”. 

Keegan was responding to an email sent to him by a homeless woman reacting to his comments. 

“I just wanted to defend myself due to the comments made about homelessness,” she said. 

She explained how she had been living in emergency accommodation for almost two years. She moved into the accommodation when she was seven months pregnant with her daughter. 

“I have had two Christmases here, have had to bring a new baby here and have her first celebrations here. More than likely she’ll end up having a second Christmas too,” the mother wrote. 

Trust me Mr Keegan, it’s no choice of mine and it’s far from luxury. 
All I ask is put yourself in others shoes and think how your words can affect people. I have always worked but am unable now because I am without any help with my child. I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs or have never been in trouble but still I have ended up in this dreadful situation.

“I truly hope you never have to experience anything like this,” she said. 

Responding to the woman’s email, Keegan said: “I don’t understand why you feel the need to ‘defend yourself’ due to comments I made about homelessness which were reported in the Sunday Business Post.” 

Keegan said the point he was trying to make is that “it is not unreasonable to point out that there has been a very significant increase in homeless accommodation in the region and in the quality of that accommodation over recent years for both families and single persons”. 

He said this has given people “options in terms of accessing homeless services that they might otherwise not have”, noting that he thinks these comments are “both true and reasonable”. 

He continued: 

They certainly did not justify the near hysterical reaction from certain quarters by individuals who constantly want to present a negative picture of homeless services in Dublin.

Criticism

Homeless emergency accommodation figures for February show that there are now a combined total of 10,264 people homeless and living in emergency accommodation in Ireland, a significant rise of 277 people from January.

The vast majority of these are in Dublin and include families living in hotels. 

With the ever-deepening housing and homelessness crisis in Ireland, Keegan received significant backlash over his comments.

Focus Ireland’s director of advocacy Mike Allen said that “demand for homeless services is created [by] the failure of [the council's housing department] to build homes”.

“But it seems to be easier to blame homeless families than take responsibility,” Allen tweeted in February. 

Anthony Flynn, CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless, described Keegan’s comments as “completely disingenuous”.

“To suggest that anyone wants to remain within homeless services is ludicrous,” Flynn said. “[The] real reason why people are forced to remain in homeless services is because of the systemic failures of the [Dublin Regional Homeless Executive] and a lack of build from [Dublin City Council].”

Adding to his comments above, Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin said: “The suggestion that good quality emergency accommodation is ‘attractive’ and encouraging people into homelessness or making them reluctant to move on to permanent housing is deeply insulting to the hundreds of parents whose families have been made homeless.” 

9260 Cross party Housing_90554379 Eoin Ó Broin TD Source: Leah Farrell

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this week, Ó Broin reacted to Keegan’s stance on the criticism of his comments. 

“Obviously it’s very disappointing,” Ó Broin said. 

“Anybody working at the frontline of homeless services, in councils, NGOs, or those of us in the political sphere, are dealing every day with the real lived trauma of adults and children in inappropriate emergency accommodation,” he said.

Even when the accommodation is of better quality, such as some of the hubs, families are still spending far too long in that accommodation. 

TheJournal.ie reported last month that figures show that 114 families had been living in temporary emergency accommodation for over two years as of the end of 2018.

Ó Broin said that he thinks Keegan is “very unwise to have said what he said”. 

I think he should apologise and he should listen to the voices of the adults and children in emergency accommodation and in hubs because that should be our measure of how appropriate or not this kind of accommodation is.

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke following the criticism in February, Keegan stood over his comments and said “the reality is … if you make better quality accommodation, and better services available, people are more likely to access those services”. 

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done that, I very much approve of the fact that we have good quality services that people are happy to access, but the reality is that if you provide better quality of services, and very generous eligibility, then people are going to avail of those services,” he said.

In his email response to the homeless mother, Keegan noted that he is “very conscious” of the difficulties faced by those who have no choice but to access homeless accommodation. 

He said he is “especially aware” of the difficulties faced by those in emergency accommodation in hotels and B&Bs.

“It is really important that we get families in emergency accommodation into permanent accommodation as soon as possible. This is something the city council is committed to doing.”

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