Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
DRHE threaten to clamp down on food tables feeding the homeless
Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais
(Reading time: mins.)
Rebel Breeze editorial introduction: Through its agency Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, Dublin City Council recently threatened to close down the charity services delivering food and bottled water to homeless and hungry people. On the back of scandal about the alleged sexual predation of the deceased founder of the Inner City Homeless organisation, the Council issued a press statement which implied the threat, supported also by indications of Garda cooperation. Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais, founder and organiser of the Éire Nua Food Initiative, one of the many charity services engaged in the work, has responded in a detailed article, reprinted here with the author’s permission.
THE 26-County State released figures on September 24 showing that there are currently 8,212 people accessing emergency accommodation in the State, a total of 6,023 adults and 2,189 children who are homeless.
These figures of homelessness have long been disputed by many others who work within the homeless sector as the State refuses to count those who are couch-surfing, or otherwise sharing accommodation with friends/family. The vast majority of the nation’s homeless are in the capital with 4,220 people accessing accommodation. 953 families are homeless in Ireland, according to the report.
Homelessness charities have warned that more families face losing their homes in the coming months due to private rental market constricts and evictions rise. This has already been borne out with reports of new faces showing up at the many soup runs/food tables that are in the city centre.
Pat Doyle, CEO of Peter McVerry Trust, said “Any increase is disappointing because it means more people impacted by homelessness. However, we are now at the busiest time of year for social housing delivery and we would hope that the number of people getting access to housing will significantly increase in the coming months.”
Dublin Simon CEO Sam McGuiness cited the toll on the physical and mental health of people trapped in long-term homelessness. He said: “This population is desperate to exit homelessness and yet they are spending longer than ever before in emergency accommodation. This group deserves far better lives than the ones they are currently living. We see first-hand the toll this is taking in the increased demands for our treatment services, counselling services and the increase in crisis counselling interventions. Outcomes for people in emergency accommodation will not improve until they have a secure home of their own. Until this happens there is scant hope of a better future for this vulnerable group.”
“MANY CHILDREN NOW SPEND THEIR FORMATIVE YEARS IN HOMELESSNESS”
Éire Nua food initiative founder Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais pointed out at a homelessness protest that many children now spend their formative years in homelessness and have no real idea of what it is like to have a traditional “Sunday dinner” or their own bedroom/play area. This will severely impact their personalities far into the future.
A report published on September 14 by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that lone parents and their children account for 53% of all homeless families. The report said that lone parents and their children are much more likely to experience poor housing than other household types. The report also highlights the disadvantages experienced by young people, migrants, people with disabilities and Travellers in the Irish housing system. Researchers looked at six dimensions of housing adequacy – accessibility, affordability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, quality, and location. They found that less than 25% of lone parents reported home-ownership, compared with 70% of the total population.
Lone parents had higher rates of affordability issues (19%) when compared to the general population (5%) and were particularly vulnerable to housing quality problems such as damp and lack of central heating (32% compared to 22%).
Ethnic minority groups had a significantly higher risk of over-crowding, the research found. Over 35% of Asian/Asian Irish people, 39% of Travellers and over 40% of Black/Black Irish people live in over-crowded accommodation, compared to 6% of the total population. Almost half of all migrants in Ireland live in the private rental sector, compared to 9% of those born in Ireland. Migrants, specifically those from Eastern Europe (28%) and non-EU countries (27%), are more likely to live in over-crowded conditions.
The research found that almost one third of persons living with a disability experience housing quality issues, compared to 21% of those without a disability. Researchers said there remains a real risk that levels of homelessness will worsen after the pandemic restrictions are lifted and they raised concern about rents increasing faster than mean earnings in Dublin and elsewhere. In 2020, mean monthly rent in Ireland was estimated to be 31% of mean monthly earnings. “Adequate housing allows people to not only survive but thrive and achieve their full potential, whilst leading to a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.”
Meanwhile, the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) said on September 28 that it is to seek greater regulation of organisations providing services for homeless people in the capital as soon as possible in the wake of the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) controversy. Dublin City Council’s deputy chief executive Brendan Kenny, who has responsibility for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) in his role, said that due to the high number of informal homeless organisations set up in recent years there is “currently no vetting, no controls, on many people who are actually interacting directly with homeless people”. Kenny said he doesn’t want “over-regulation” to lead to certain groups disbanding but added: “At the moment there’s nothing and that’s not good enough.”
In a statement, the DRHE said it is “strongly of the view that greater regulation, vetting, and scrutiny is required for organisations/charities that set themselves up as service providers for homeless persons, including the provision of on-street food services”. “Several such organisations not funded by the DRHE have come into existence in recent years and the DRHE and our partner agencies will be endeavouring in the coming months to bring the necessary expanded scrutiny and regulation to all such organisations.”
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said there will be a review of Garda vetting procedures for the homelessness sector. Kenny said a report commissioned by Dublin City Council into the impact of unvetted charities is near completion and will provide further insight on the matter.
It has been pointed out several times over the past four months that the DRHE, DCC and others have long tried to close the soup runs/food tables in the city centre and many now fear that what has been revealed through the ICHH debacle will be used to close many of these down. The DRHE are ignoring the fact that it is their rules and the oversight bodies recognised by them that has let the homeless down, not the food tables. Much of the work done by the food tables is done in the open and in full public view.
The issues highlighted through the ongoing ICHH investigation show it is what went on behind closed doors that is the problem. Those in oversight positions didn’t do their jobs; people were put in positions of authority without relevant qualifications. The DRHE, DCC and the police should look to how they can improve safety within their “regulated” organisations before seeking to regulate the volunteers who serve a need without any remuneration.
Many of the volunteers at food tables would have difficulty meeting the requirements of police vetting as some would be former addicts, and many others have no desire to become registered charities.
Again, it was pointed out by Diarmuid that many of these “regulated” charities will have high overheads such as transport insurance, maintenance and fuel costs. Some will have CEO wages and petty cash expenses to cover before any donations can be spent on the service user, whereas the Éire Nua food initiative and some others do not seek cash donations. All is done voluntarily and any costs are borne by the volunteers themselves. He cited that many registered charities are little more than businesses operating within the homelessness sector.
Diarmuid has been quoted in the past citing that “there are now many businesses making huge money out of those who are in homelessness” and “that the volunteer ethos that surround many food tables is not to be found within some charities”.
“IMPROVE THE STANDARD OF REGISTERED ACCOMMODATION, NOT SHUT DOWN THE VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS”
Kenny said the large number of pop-up soup runs mean some people are less likely to engage with the larger charities funded by the DRHE and in turn, less likely to engage with their support services. The DRHE views sleeping in a homeless hostel, rather than on the street, as a “much safer” option. However, he acknowledged that some homeless people don’t want to stay in a hostel, for a variety of reasons.
“We fully understand that but we’re strongly of the view that a hostel bed is absolutely safer and more hygienic than sleeping in a sleeping bag on the side or a street or in a tent. We know there are some people that just won’t go to a hostel – it may be that they have mental health issues.
“We are also aware that some people would prefer to stay in a tent in order to stay involved in drugs and be taking drugs because they may not be able to do it in the hostel.” Kenny added that while hostels provide shelter and food, they “wouldn’t be the nicest place to sleep” but are still “far safer” than being on the street.
He totally ignores the many testimonies from residents, former residents and former workers within these hostels of the theft of personal property, the numerous assaults on residents by other residents, the bullying of residents by some staff members, low hygiene standards, open drug and alcohol abuse and the arbitrary nature operating within some hostels where a resident can be denied access on the whim of staff.
It is incumbent of the State, DRHE and the various councils to bring the standard of these types of accommodation up to a better standard and NOT try to shut those organisations who look after the many who fear staying within State accommodation.
Kenny also noted that sometimes tourists or those who are not homeless queue up to get food from the soup runs. He said fights also break out sometimes. “We’ve come across situations of tourists maybe going up to a food van and getting food, and maybe other people that are not in need of services. And the reality is that anybody that’s sleeping in a hostel, food is provided for them so there is not a shortage of food in the hostel services.
“[Soup runs] do attract a lot of people. I know there are times when large numbers of vulnerable people congregate and you end up with disputes and fights as well.”
On the issue of tourists queuing for food, he may well be right, but as the Éire Nua group has pointed out, “we feed the homeless AND hungry, we will not discriminate or question anyone who stands waiting for some food”.
Also pointed out by many residents of various hostels is the small proportions of meals given; while enough to sustain it is often not enough to keep that empty stomach feeling at bay.
And for the five to six years that Diarmuid has volunteered alone, with the Éire Nua group or on another soup run, he or other volunteers have never had to call the police. On the few occasions where trouble has occurred, it is often rectified within seconds as the majority of people awaiting food know that: (1) the volunteers are their friends and out there to help them and (2) causing disruption to the smooth running of the tables can result in being denied food.
The final word to Kenny from the Éire Nua food initiative: “Let the DRHE look to itself and those under its umbrella before looking to those outside their group; let them ensure the regulations in force within are enforced. Do not blame those who volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts for the sins of those who worked for them.”
It may be that the primary concerns of the Dublin municipal authorities and the Gardaí are to remove the visible signs of poverty and homelessness, rather than protection of the vulnerable among these. DCC Brendan Kenny’s comments in mid-August against the proliferation of homeless people living in tents may be seen as a concern that the charity food services constitute an unwelcome reflection on the performance of the Irish State and the municipal authorities of its capital city, visible not only to the city’s inhabitants — at all levels of society — but also to its visitors.
Kenny previous comments against homeless in tents: https://www.joe.ie/news/dublin-city-council-ceo-criticised-following-comments-homeless-tents-dublin-728819
The Inner City Homeless scandal: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/homeless-charity-faces-uncertain-future-following-death-of-co-founder-1.4688838