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The aftermath of a shooting: Regency Hotel's homeless residents left in limbo

Many families moved out after witnessing the killing of David Byrne.

Shooting at Dublin hotel Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

A NUMBER OF homeless families who were accommodated in Dublin’s Regency Hotel at the time of the fatal shooting of David Byrne have raised concerns about their living conditions.

Residents have complained about dampness in rooms, a cramped, shared kitchen and restrictive rules.

Dublin City Council carried out the investigation following queries from TheJournal.ie  about safety, hygeine and other problems outlined by families living in the well-known hotel.

The council’s facilities team visited the site and asked the operators - R&G Administration - to rectify safety concerns and address issues around the shared kitchen space and treatment of families by staff.

Homelessness crisis

As the housing crisis escalated last year, the number of rooms given over to homeless families rose in the Regency. Now, there are two lobbies currently operating at the hotel.

The first is inside the main entrance, a square grey construct with the building’s name emblazoned on the overhead. A reception desk used by management and staff is surrounded by couples lugging wheelie bags and people with out-of-town accents.

The second, smaller one, is found inside the building’s older half through an arched white doorway. Two receptionists in plain clothes man the desk.

On a recent visit, a woman in her 30s exited the latter lobby with her two young daughters in tow. They headed towards the nearby Centra, returning a few minutes later with a bag of food and cleaning items.

She passed an iron fence to the right of the main facade, where five bouquets of roses have been tied.

Dublin shootings Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Climbing the steps, she bumped into a pair of young boys – about 10 years old – who stop to chat. They tell her they want to go into the shop and “buy a pellet gun”.

In the course of the next 10 minutes, similar scenarios occurred. All the residents have local accents.

The door, which they use, has been assigned as the lobby for homeless families currently living in private emergency accommodation. R&G Administration receives a standard daily fee per room from Dublin City Council.

This temporary means of accommodation has become commonplace in Dublin city over the course of the last two years.

From January to September of 2015, the number of families reported as homeless by Dublin Region Homeless Executive had risen by 76%, going from 465 to 769, while in January (between the 25 and 31), families staying in emergency accommodation had reached a total of 553 with 1,141 dependants.

In relation to the Regency alone, the figures stand out significantly, having been estimated by four separate sources (grass-root support groups; Homeless Fightback and March for the Homeless, and two former residents) to be somewhere between 60 and 82 families.

These numbers have fluctuated since the shooting of David Byrne in the hotel’s conference room on 5 February.

Shooting at Dublin hotel Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Marie (not her real name), a former resident, says that two floors on one side of the hotel were completely full with homeless people and families during her stay.

“Homeless started to take over the whole hotel side, on the first and second floors mostly. That’s how many there are right now,” she said.

A single mother of three, Marie moved in at the beginning of January but left when Dublin’s current gangland feud was reignited on her doorstep. A number of other homeless residents upped and left as a direct consequence of the shooting at the boxing event.

Before that, and since last May, I’d been couch hopping, going from one place to another, staying with friends and family mostly. I was hoping to rent somewhere, but just couldn’t find anything.

Declaring herself homeless to Dublin City Council at the end of the year, she was placed in the Regency the following month.

“It was going on too long. I couldn’t do anymore with the people I was staying with. The council wouldn’t give me homeless accommodation last May. It was only through [Sinn Fein councillor] Eoin Ó Broin that I got help and was placed there.

“I wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise. In the council’s eyes, I’m only homeless since January.”

Recalling when they first entered the system, she said, “I was afraid. I didn’t know what I was in for. I didn’t know who was going to be there, didn’t know what was gonna happen. It was just very, very scary. My two girls came with me. My son went to my Mam’s.

There were 82 plus families [in the Regency]. We all had to share the one kitchen. We weren’t allowed to use the main door, or the main lobby. We had to use the homeless lobby.

“It was like… a boot camp. They gave me a rules sheet and then walked me to my room. Then they said that we weren’t allowed a small fridge, or a toaster, or anything like that in the room. We all had to use the ones in the kitchen. You didn’t get food included. You’re pretty much on your own.” The rules sheet, seen by TheJournal.ie states:

  • Accommodation is on a nightly basis and every night there will be a roll call. Recurring instances of absence may result in your placement being cancelled by Dublin City Council.
  • Guests are allowed to stay out for a maximum of two nights per month. If you wish to stay out of the property you must contact Dublin County Council… and explain the reasons for why you are staying out.
  • Visitors are not allowed ANYWHERE inside the house. No exceptions made. (Capital lettering is included in original rule sheet)

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The 12 rules and conditions also outline that guests “must not enter the room of another guest under any circumstances”, while “interference with any of the neighbours, in any way whatsoever, will result in immediate dismissal and prosecution to the full extent of the law”.

Parents are also told they are expected to supervise their children “at all times”, while rooms are inspected daily and the kitchen is closed between the hours of 9pm and 7am.

The rules concerning supervision lead to problems for certain residents. One woman had to quit her job because she was not allowed to bring her mother into the hotel in order to take care of her children.

According to a spokesperson from Dublin Region Homeless Executive, these “site specific guidelines” were drawn up by R&G Administration, developed to “ensure the smooth operation and safety of all the guests”.

Marie, however, claims they were extremely restrictive, feeling constantly like they were in danger of being kicked out.

“It felt like transitional housing after prison. I felt like I was put there because I was at fault, as if I’d done something wrong.

“I mean, I’m homeless because of no fault of my own. If they’re not going to meet you halfway, then they shouldn’t offer this as a homeless facility.”

Yet, she points out, while the conditions and treatment were poor, her decision to leave was influenced considerably by the shootings, which she witnessed from her room.

I remember looking out my window and seeing everybody running to the car park area. Then, I just heard all of this shooting. There were about 12 shots let off. I got my kids down onto the ground, and called the gardaí. I thought it was ISIS, or terrorists.

“We were screaming and could hear people down there roaring. We ran to the opposite side of the room, but I felt we were basically trapped – afraid to go outside. It was traumatic, I mean, I thought we were going to die.

“That was it,” she concluded. “I left by my own accord on the Friday night, and went to stay in a relative’s house.

“The next morning, I checked out. Nothing was offered to us though; nothing at all. They offered the residents who stayed counselling and the kids a trip to the zoo, but since I left, we weren’t offered any of this.

“We were at the front of the whole lot of it, but no, nothing was offered. A load of people also tried getting out too afterwards, but they couldn’t. They were told there was no other accommodation available.”

Shooting at Dublin hotel Source: Niall Carson

Joan (not her real name), another former resident, spent six weeks in the Regency before December 2016 with her 11-year-old son.

When we spoke to her she was in her tenth month of homelessness. Initially, she stayed at a women’s refuge in Blanchardstown for three months.

After that period, she declared herself as homeless to the council and was placed in a B&B but felt it necessary to leave upon experiencing repeated “invasions of privacy” at the hands of one of the workers in the building.

We were then moved to the Regency. There they gave us the rules at reception, one to keep, and another to sign and then, we were shown our room and the fire escape.

Discussing the given escape route, she said, “It was out a window on the fifth floor. This balcony had cracks. It seemed to be eroded to the point that the fence didn’t look to be properly attached in some places. I was worried that if the whole floor was to be evacuated, that balcony wouldn’t hold.”

Responding to multiple queries from TheJournal.ie about conditions and safety at the Regency for homeless people, a spokesperson from Dublin City Council said its Regional Facilities Management Team visited the hotel to carry out an investigation and confirmed: “R&G have been asked to rectify safety concerns in relation to the fire escape.”

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When asked about fire safety matters and concerns over the fifth floor exit, a spokesperson for R&G Administration also told TheJournal.ie that “the outdoor fire escape from the sixth floor to the second floor is not in use”.

There is an internal fire escape and nobody is permitted to be out on that fire escape.

“All the fire doors with access to this area are alarmed and have a camera on them for safety. There is then one outdoor staircase to ground level and there is currently work being carried out on that area.”

Hygiene concerns

Speaking further in relation to the conditions of her room, and those around her, Joan had further concerns about hygiene, dampness, smells in the rooms and the shared kitchen.

Since these complaints were brought to TheJournal.ie, the council has asked R&G to review the cleanliness of the kitchen.

A spokesperson noted that it is cleaned daily but the review should “find a solution that will meet the needs of the guests”.

Regarding possessions, Joan noted she was allowed a small fridge, something others were refused.

“In the kitchen, facility-wise, there were fridges – home standard – not made for those conditions. I had to clean them out a few times, what with the huge traffic going in and out. Cleaning staff didn’t deal with that. They only wiped down a few counter-tops. I didn’t think it was hygienic or child-friendly.

You would be falling over children. It was cramped, and I thought unsafe. All the switches were tripping what with all the plugs and extensions everywhere.

Joan also complained that there was “always something wrong, so many children were getting sick, getting infections”.

The cleaners would clean every room but I thought they might have been using the same bucket, cloths and water for each one. These germs could have been going around to every room.

The kitchens, she said, “could not cater for that many families. The appliances were never clean and the few washing machines were hardly ever available for us to clean our clothes.”

Due to the parental supervision rules, she noted that children had to be kept with them while they cooked. “It wasn’t safe and there were appliance cables everywhere.”

Addressing the matter of the shared kitchen, R&G stated, “The kitchen is always going to be an issue, as so many people are sharing it.

It is very well equipped with George Foreman [grills], microwaves, small convection ovens, two ring hobs, toasters, kettles, flat grills, pots and pans etc.

In relation to its alleged lack of hygiene, the spokesperson replied by saying, “[It] is deep cleaned every morning by our housekeeping staff and any dishes left around are washed and put away.

“Unfortunately there are people that use the appliances throughout the day and don’t clean them afterwards… That is where the hygiene complaints come from.”

Tensions in the hotel

There have also been claims that intimidation and “bullying” were prevalent during periods of stay and people felt that they shouldn’t complain.

According to Joan, this prevented her from being able to submit another complaint to management after a run-in with one member of staff about three weeks into her residence.

In the end, she said, “I was booted out because they said I was drinking. Now, I don’t drink but it’s not about breaking the rules there.” There were, she argued, blatant signs of “rule breakers on paper” everywhere.

“It’s case by case when talking about complaints. If you have an issue with noise from upstairs, say a couple are roaring and screaming, you’d have a right to submit a complaint.

“But I was having social workers relaying conversations back to me that I had with people in the building. That’s how watched you are in there. It was just nuts. I mean people were totally afraid to talk.”

Iris*, who moved into the hotel at the end of 2015, echoed her statements.

“Nobody could try to speak up, or speak their mind.”

After its investigation, the Dublin City Council’s facilities team “requested that R&G staff treat our clients with dignity and respect at all times”.

Following this probe by DCC officials, a member of R&G Administration agreed to respond to the complaints highlighted but requested their name be withheld.

Addressing the bullying and unfair treatment allegations, the spokesperson confirmed that “there have been complaints about a member of staff [who] has since left [the] position”.

“The issue that we as an employer had was a lack of professionalism but that particular member of staff went above and beyond for our residents, regularly giving many families lifts when needed and such like things.”

However, the spokesperson conceded that tensions can run high at times in the hotel because of the difficult situations families are going through.

“Our residents are going through a very stressful time being homeless,” they said.

Having to look after children in a hotel room is not easy. Naturally tensions run high sometimes and disagreements come about between residents and staff, and residents alike. I would like to think and hope that the majority, if not all of our families are happy living with us.

During the course of each interview, all three women noted that they have been encouraged to consider taking the Housing Assistance Payment by Dublin City Council.

However, they are wary about accepting this offer, each expressing their own fears concerning the long-term results of HAP. The main issue being that once their leases would be up under the scheme, they would no longer be on the council’s list, and hence, might face being homeless once more.

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About the author:

Michael Lanigan

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