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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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‘Barrage of noise, stress and drama’: Life in emergency accommodation

Rosemary Fearsaor-Hughes, a rough sleeper with a disability on staying in a hostel for the homeless.

Rosemary Fearsaor-Hughes

YOU PROBABLY DON’T know me, but you’ve possibly walked past someone just like me every day. Many people don’t acknowledge us, even when we speak to them.

If you walked past me in the street, you wouldn’t know by looking that I’m homeless. I might appear to be a backpacker or tourist. I’m clean, tidy and don’t particularly look homeless.

I am one of the invisible, voiceless homeless people that inhabit the capital city and call it “home”.

And I have a disability. I’m sight impaired and suffer with a chronic pain condition called fibromyalgia.

Currently, I’m not allocated a bed in emergency accommodation, as there is a lack of accessible facilities and I am sleeping rough with my guide dog Quilla. 

  • The Noteworthy team wants to probe the cost of emergency accommodation in hotels, hubs and B&Bs around the country. See how you can make this investigation happen here.

Emergency accommodation

I was previously allocated a bed in a semi-accessible homeless facility in a shared room with two other women. We were partitioned from other sections but we could still hear everything happening in the other sections adjoining us. 

It was clear that heroin and tablets were openly being dealt and used. Arguments and fights were an almost daily occurrence and meeting intoxicated individuals was unavoidable. This made it complicated at best to use the common area.

It is difficult for me at the best of times to prevent a hot drink from being spilled due to my issues with my sight. Add to this, trying to negotiate around many people, intoxicated or otherwise, and it becomes much harder.

The facility had two accessible bathrooms but some residents would use it to smoke or inject heroin. It was not unusual to come across used needles or a crack pipe on the floor.

You’d constantly have to be alert for the inherent dangers and risks of using the facilities.

For example, one time while I was in the shared room, a resident left a trail of blood and blood-covered bedding in the room. She didn’t tell the staff and it was only discovered because I could smell it and alerted them. 

Source: Flicker Media/YouTube

Fights that escalate into violence

There are other more general issues with my experience with emergency accommodation. There are laundry facilities but the machines are often broken.

You’re allocated a time and day to do your washing but regularly there are someone else’s clothes in the machine.

It’s never quiet and you can hear arguments during the night that regularly escalate into physical violence, even in the small hours.

It’s a near constant barrage of noise, stress and drama, it’s never peaceful and the atmosphere is not conducive to being able to rest, have privacy and dignity.

Poor quality food

Food is supposed to be included with your payment but it is not substantial and of poor quality, and if you are vegetarian the food options are very limited.

The meals were not substantial enough to feed a child, yet alone an adult.

On most days, the only other food options available were bread, jam, cup a soup and pot noodles. Residents were refused seconds and even though mealtime were supposed to last from 5.30pm until 7pm, there would often be no food left after 6pm.

Many residents were relying on soup tables and runs to eat as the meagre amounts provided by the hostel were insufficient.

Problems with staff

The cleaners in the facility were friendly and kind and they made my time there significantly better as they treated residents with respect and dignity.

Some staff, however, were often dismissive of residents’ concerns and needs, with residents paying up to €60 a week to stay in substandard overcrowded accommodation that is not fit for purpose.

One male resident, that I heard asking for a second serving of food, was told by a staff member that they would close his bed if he didn’t leave the common area.

Staff would threaten you with written warnings if you didn’t comply or if you drew attention to an injustice against another resident or yourself.

Two or three of these written warnings and you are barred and your bed is “closed”.

‘Unseen and unheard’

In some ways, I am slightly more fortunate than other homeless people. I groom a lovely labrador husky on Mondays.

The owner, to whom I am eternally grateful, allows me to use her shower and does my laundry while I’m grooming her dog. She pays me a little for grooming and always packs a bag of food for me.

But in general, the homeless community simply doesn’t seem to count and it takes a toll. People I knew have taken their own lives, while the State has failed us.

We are barely existing, on the fringes of society, broadly unseen and unheard.

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Rosemary is a visually impaired homeless person of mixed descent. She is an artisan who makes and sell handicrafts and is a disability and human rights activist.

THIS HOSTEL LIFE investigation

Noteworthy wants to look at every local authority in the country and find out how they are dealing with homelessness in their areas and analyse how much is being spent on hotels, B&Bs, and guesthouses right around the country.

Have you had a personal experience of emergency accommodation that you would like to share? You can contact the team at information@noteworthy.ie

Here’s how to support this proposal >

About the author:

Rosemary Fearsaor-Hughes

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