Passers-by on foot and on the Luas tram lines watched curiously as housing activists and others held a picket outside Store Street Garda station in Dublin on the evening of 13th June 2022. The picket was called for by the Revolutionary Workers Union, protesting the taking by over 80 Gardaí of a house on Eden Quay and arresting of two occupants, followed by the arrest of another two activists near another address.
The picket was called at fairly short notice and supported by people from a variety of political backgrounds, all with what were clearly home-made placards. Picketing a police station is somewhat counter-intuitive, given that’s to where the police take their prisoners and most people want to stay away from those places, with good reason. However, the station is the location of the police symbolically and in reality and Store Street is one of the main ones in Dublin so, when one wants to protest about the police …… Once having protested at a police station, the apprehension is never quite the same again.
Some passers-by stopped to ask what the protest was about, some of whom expressed anger at the actions of the Gardaí and a reporter from an independent media interviewed some of the participants.
Some time later the picketers were addressed by Seán Doyle of the RWU who spoke about the morality of the landlords and speculators and the Gardaí who work for them. Doyle contrasted that morality with the one that saw provision for need instead of profit. During the course of his address, Doyle pointed out that the RWU knows people who work in emergency interventions such as with people attempting suicide, who are then brought to agencies to help them but who are soon out again and homeless. “This is not ‘ethnic cleansing’,” the activist said, “it’s class cleansing.”
The RWU spokesperson at the picket remarked on the use of the law and the Gardaí against housing activists while speculators and landlords make big profits out of the misery of homelessness. A law that upholds and defends that kind of practice must be defied, he stated as he drew to a close.
Seán Doyle was one of two activists that were removed recently by over 80 Gardaí from a one-and-a-half years empty homeless hostel which the RWU had “acquisitioned” and renamed “James Connolly House”. Another premises subsequently acquisitioned, also empty for a long period, the RWU renamed “Liam Mellowes House” and the Gardaí arrested two activists near there also, despite any occupation of the building being a civil law matter and outside the remit of the Gardaí.
The RWU on a number of occasions have called on people to “take back empty buildings” and have declared that they will not be intimidated by arrests but will continue to fight for the right of people to a secure home.
The Salvation Army went to court yesterday to obtain a court order against the Revolutionary Workers’ Union, the latter currently occupying a building on Dublin’s Eden Quay since earlier this month. The RWU occupied the building — which had been empty last year — in order to house the homeless and as a public protest against continuing homelessness in the city, property speculation and high rents. The RWU were not represented in court, which granted the Salvation Army the order they sought, but some RWU supporters held a protest picket outside the court and held a rally outside the Eden Quay building a few hours later, their speakers and songs expressing determination to continue the struggle and defiance of the authorities.
The occupied building formerly known as Lefroy House and now renamed James Connolly House by the occupiers, in honour of the celebrated revolutionary socialist James Connolly executed in 1916, was constructed on the site in 1925 (all the terraces along Eden Quay had been demolished by British artillery and fire during the suppression of the 1916 Rising). Extended in 1948, the legend “Seamen’s Institute” suggests it served for a time as a seamen’s hostel but in more recent times served as hostel for young people run by the Salvation Army1 organisation, which closed the facility last year when their government funding was cut.
The Salvation Army organisation hold a long lease on the building and claimed in court that they had been renovating the building to house Ukrainian refugees, for which one assumes they have funding. However, a quick independent inspection of the building’s interior found it in good repair but with no sign of ongoing renovation work of any kind. Their claim was repeated in media reports without any attempt to check its veracity. The RWU in a statement date the 17th and of which copies were handed out supporters attending the rally yesterday headed off any attempt to use racism in their support, stating that: “The Revolutionary Workers’ Union is a pro-refugee and migrant organisation” and went on to call for housing for all residents, regardless of nationality and “an end to the shameful prison system of direct provision”.
In common with previous statements, it went on to call on people across the country, all 32 counties, to take similar action. This seems a new departure from housing occupation actions in recent years, of which the most famous was that of the large formerly NAMA building Apollo House in December of 2016. That occupation received a lot of activist support and media attention, the latter due at least in part to the participation of celebrity personalities such as the musicians Glen Hansard and Damien Dempsey and support from actress Saoirse Ronan and film-maker and author Jim Sheridan. After the building was abandoned to its owners for demolition however no similar action followed – except for a protest concert outside Leinster House the following year — and the housing crisis continued to intensify. Some minor occupations have occurred without usually any follow-up action after the occupants were evicted and protest marches have taken place – but the crisis continues to worsen.
A wide public housing program is urgently needed to address the crisis but, although by no means a revolutionary solution, has the support of not one of the major political parties, in or out of government. Not only should the sale of any public land to private concerns by declared illegal but other facilities and empty buildings need to be seized for conversion into public housing to rent according to means. Those rents would not only fund repairs and maintenance but new building also.
But any local authority wishing to carry out this program is starved of the necessary funding from the State, which feeds it instead into private landlords and speculators, who then use it to further deepen their grip on the housing market. Not only is the problem not resolved but it gets worse.
According to Department of Housing, there were more than 9,800 people experiencing homelessness in Ireland at the end of March, representing an increase of 3.5% in one month and a 23% increase compared to the same time last year.
Of the 9,825 homeless people, 2,811 were children and there were 5,143 single adults and 1,238 families in emergency accommodation. Youth homelessness is more than double other categories as there was a 58% increase in the number of homeless people aged between 18 and 24 (1,230) when compared to last year.
The Simon Communities of Ireland said it was “the highest level of adult homelessness and young person homelessness ever recorded” by the Department of Housing.2
In addition, the number of homeless people dying is sharply increasing: a total of 115 homeless people died in Dublin last year, more than double the number who died in 2019. In 2020, there were 76 deaths recorded while in 2019 and 2018, the number was under 50.3
RALLY ON THE QUAY – SPEECHES AND SONG
The rally yesterday evening outside “Connolly House”, which had been called at fairly short notice, started a little late but was fairly short, concluding even as people were still arriving. The average age profile was noticeably young and a number of political tendencies seemed to be represented.
A man chairing the rally apologised for the lack of a PA system and asked people go gather closer. He informed the audience that the Revolutionary Workers’ Group has occupied “a second long-term vacant property in Dublin City, naming it Liam Mellows House, “the great socialist Republican executed by the Free State counterrevolution in 1922 …. which we continue to live with the consequences of and continue to fight to this day.”
Apart from the man chairing the event, there were two speakers from the RWU, one of whom gave his entire speech in fluent Irish. The message in summary from all was that the housing crisis is artificially created for the benefit of landlords and property “vulture” speculators, that the buildings belong by right to all of us, that housing is a human need that requires fighting for and the time for fighting – “to shake off the paralysis” — is now. All the speeches were cheered.
A performer accompanying himself by guitar sang a new resistance song while a giant banner was waved, reading “EVICTIONS KILL — HOUSE THE PEOPLE ”.
The event concluded with a man singing a cappella The Larkin Ballad4 (also known as the Lockout Song). He introduced his performance by saying that on that very Quay in August 1913 the police had killed two workers and that the Irish Citizen Army had been formed as a result, which had gone on to participate in the 1916 Rising — with the lyrics referencing both periods.
Following that, the chairperson invited those who wished to do so to enter the building but to treat it with respect in general and to abide by the rules of the occupiers of which he mentioned in particular that there were to be no photographs taken. A long queue formed for admittance even as some latecomers still arrived to join it.
1The Salvation Army is a Protestant religious charity and temperance organisation and its funding by the State to address homelessness is another example of the ubiquitous private status of social services in Ireland whether through different faith organisations or other NGOs.
4“In Dublin City in 1913, the Boss was rich and the workers slaves ….” The original lyrics were composed by Donagh McDonagh, son of Thomas McDonagh, Signatory of the Proclamation of Independence and executed by British firing squad in 1916, with some further lyrics by his own son.
DRHE threaten to clamp down on food tables feeding the homeless
Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais
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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.
Go to Dublin city centre any evening and you will see people queuing up for food and water, being dispensed by teams of volunteers. There are at least 16 different organisations carrying out this work in the city centre, mostly outside the General Post Office, an imposing building and historical icon, the location of the HQ of the 1916 Rising from Easter Monday to Friday1. These are mostly community initiatives or if not, religious organisations (Christian, Muslim, Sikh), their staff volunteers, their efforts supported by donations. I arranged to speak to one of those volunteers.
DB: Orla, thank you for talking to me. You help with one of the soup-run-type initiatives? In Dublin City Centre?
Orla: That’s ok. Yes. Ours is one of the ones that sets up in front of the GPO, under the arch. We take over after another group has already been there.
And there are still people to feed? Even though a group has been feeding people before you?
Oh, yes. Sometimes the queue is already stretching to the corner of the GPO when I get there.
How long have you been doing it?
Since September last year with this group and a few stints with another group before that.
What made you take it up?
Over the years, like I suppose lots of other people, I’ve been seeing the rich get richer, the poor poorer. It’s made me more sympathetic to people in difficult situations. I don’t think people get where they are just by entitlement. It’s given me different perspectives. One Christmas Night … it was 2016 …. I got to go with a homeless outreach team, supporting people sleeping on the street …. It really opened my eyes. So I got to know a few of the volunteers, started off donating to their teams. Then one day I joined the volunteers.
What is it like to do that?
It can be challenging. We need to wear masks and gloves. Some of the people have mental health issues. You might get someone trying to take more than their share – well, if you see they have kids, that’s OK, or you really know they are taking one for someone else …. but you have to explain that the food is being shared, it’s for all and has to last. The queue has to form up at one end and has to keep moving …. Most are grateful and cooperate.
So, what do you and the other organisations provide?
Mostly food and bottled water.
You spoke earlier about donations. I have heard some volunteers say they don’t want money, also claims that some organisations asking for money have been scams. Would you like to talk a little about all that?
It is an issue. Most of the organisations are not registered charities that have audited accounts ….
Some registered charities have been found to be crooked too …
Yes, some certainly have. There was concern about a particular organisation that was collecting in front of the GPO. A reliable person who knew the score challenged them and warned others about them and we haven’t seen them since.
But getting back to donations to the teams feeding people …. are they in money or in food and water?
Mostly they are in water food and – bread, cakes, chocolates. There’s some shops, including convenience stores, that donate us bottled water and also food. Some of the food is prepared elsewhere and then brought down to the teams, already packed into single containers – because of the danger of infection. And we provide plastic forks and spoons. And there’s hot water containers for hot drinks. There’s one group of people who make sandwiches to bring down – they’re very popular. Some people help in preparing stuff but don’t work on the table handing it out.
Occasionally, but we usually ask people to buy food with the money and donate it. Occasionally a money donation might be accepted and a receipt would be given. But what can you do when someone just walks up to us when we’re busy, hands over a ten-euro note and walks away? Oh by the way, we don’t do a clothes service but if we know someone in particular needs clothes or shoes, we might bring them in. Or pass them on to the Lighthouse or Inner City Homeless.2 Sometimes outreach teams from registered services will come along to us too, so they can get someone into a hostel.
I have heard of some groups of far-Right or fascist orientation saying we should only be looking after the Irish. What would you say about that?
Well, I don’t agree. We feed people of whatever nationality, so long as they’re not scamming. Sometimes we get some Irish people in the queue making remarks like that and we have to be careful not to rise to it, to get in big arguments with them — but we don’t agree. They shouldn’t be judging. We don’t get people from Direct Provision but I’ve heard those are certainly not holiday camps. Racists say foreigners get things for free but any accommodation they get, they pay rent for. People might be here from abroad, working, paying rent, then they lose their job, things go wrong for them …. could happen to anyone.
Then, you might be from one county and be refused help in another. I remember a program on TV early in the year about a young person left on the street because he was from another county …. shocked a lot of people.
Has there been any trouble from racist organisations?
I remember that just before Christmas there were some threats made on social media from some far-Right people to some of the volunteers.
I heard about those threats too. Did anything happen?
No …. supporters turned up to defend them and stayed near for the whole shift.
So, is it tiring, after a day’s work, helping on the soup run line for two hours,?
Yes, after work I get something to eat, then head over there.
Well, thank you Orla for taking the time for the interview and for your work.
List of groups organising and serving the soup-runs (may not be complete)
Éire Nua Food Initiative
Grubs Up Homeless Services
Caring Is Sharing
Muslim Sisters of Éire
Gurdwara Nanak Darbar
Church of God
Hope In The Darkness
Streetlink Homeless Services
Liberty Soup Run
Ballymun Soup Run
Kilkenny group on Grafton Street
Go raibh maith agaibh go léir and to those who supply them with donations of food and bottled water.
Thankfully these organisations are providing services but it is a sad comment on any society that they are needed, let alone in a State that claims it won independence a century ago. The GPO is a central location in the city centre and is obviously convenient for the operation of the services. Nevertheless the fact the building housed the headquarters of the 1916 Rising for nearly five days is a poignant counterpoint to the aspirations of those who fought for independence and a better life for the people.
That some far-Right and outright fascist organisations such as the National Party are using the issue of poverty and homelessmess to point the finger not at the system but at migrants, is disgusting. Preying on the vulnerable, poisoning their minds and using them as a front to pretend that they are actually doing charitable work, filming their occasional propaganda forays into the city.
Meanwhile, there are real people of many different ethnic backgrounds actually out there week after week, doing the real work, whether by religious or communal solidarity. Some of the latter are also, at other times, political activists and to learn that they have been threatened by fascists makes one’s blood boil.
Fair play to those who are doing the real work. But it shouldn’t be necessary. The system is sick. It needsa fundamental change or at least a sharp shock.
…. charging ….. step back ….. JOLT!
…. charging ….. step back ….. JOLT!
1On that afternoon some of the garrison left to take wounded to Jervis Street Hospital and the major part, to head for the north-east of the city to continue the resistance but having to stop in Moore Street.
2Registered NGO services working with the homeless in Dublin.
The Trauma of Child Homelessnessby Brian McLoughlin
(Reading time: 2 mins.)
In March 2017, then housing minister Simon Coveney officially opened the first family hub in Dublin for families experiencing homelessness. He said this was a response to the negative experiences of homeless families being accommodated in commercial hotels. Coveney then confidently stated that the use of commercial hotels to accommodate homeless families would end in July 2017.
In Inner City Helping Homeless, we knew this was yet another empty promise that couldn’t possibly be delivered, but Coveney persisted with the publicity tour. When asked by The Journal if he really thought the goal of no longer using hotels for homeless families was achievable, he stuck to his guns that it was possible and that people were working hard to make it happen.
Fast forward four years, and the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs for homeless families continues as more and more hotels pop up around the city. A recent DRHE report stated that in April 2021 there were 113 families still being accommodated in commercial hotels. Families cramped in to one room with their children, their children’s toys, school books – all at a huge cost to the state. While we were all told to stay at home during Covid-19, these families had to spend day after day sharing one room, putting huge mental health pressure on both the children and their parents. It is well documented that living in emergency accommodation impacts a child’s development, creating physical and mental health issues for children in primary school. Homelessness is creating a trauma for a generation of children, and we will be seeing the fallout of this for years to come.
“There’s nothing nice about how I feel” – Charlie, aged 6
In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children brought out a report called No Place Like Home. For the report, they spoke to children living in emergency accommodation, from small children right up to teenagers. They asked them to explain what life for them was like in their own words, and some of the answers would break a heart made of stone. Children feeling like they were prisoners and were being punished when all they are guilty of is becoming homeless in a country that would rather pay huge money to hotels, B&Bs and family hubs than develop a proper public housing building plan to give these children homes. When asked what they liked about where they live, the answers spoke for themselves:
“I like nothing about living here, I have none of my friends here, I can’t do a sleep over … [it] makes me feel sad. There’s nothing nice about how I feel”. (Charlie, aged 6)
“It’s like a prison …. It’s just horrible” – Rebecca, aged 10
“The rules are very strict. The worst is that you are not allowed to have friends in your room. They just expect you to sit on your own. And not being allowed to be anywhere without your mam, you’re not even allowed to sit in the room for ten minutes by yourself. I know it has safety issues but nothing is going to happen … If we break the rules we will get kicked out. It’s like a prison … it’s just horrible”. (Rebecca, aged 10)
“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up” – Rachel, aged 10
“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up because I didn’t want to face this day … I am tired in school. Some days I would just sit there and not even smile”. (Rachel, aged 10)
When there are ten-year-old children having suicidal thoughts we as a society are failing these children. Many speak of not being allowed to have visitors or sleep-overs – even prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Why are we allowing this?
“Children … were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room”
In 2018, Temple Street Children’s Hospital experienced a big spike in children being released to ‘No Fixed Abode’ and wrote a report on the impact of homelessness on children. The report stated that homeless children are most likely to get sick from their cramped accommodation. The main reasons children presented to Temple Street were burns (kettles in hotel rooms), scabies from dodgy mattresses, injuries from falls, and respiratory issues. Even more shocking is the fact that homeless children were not developing quickly enough: they were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room and even the development of their swallow was effected due to the food they were having to eat as their parents had no available cooking facilities. Research shows that homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life, from conception to young adulthood, and that the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural development of children.
“As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years”
These children are this country’s future generations, and they are being let down over and over again by an incompetent government who lack empathy, compassion and vision. A government which continues to outsource state responsibilities to private developers, vulture funds, commercial hotels, B&Bs and privately-operated hostels. Not only do we have a government who lack empathy and compassion, but they are also economically incompetent. Report after report has highlighted what we are doing to children’s development by keeping them in emergency accommodation. As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years.
And what does family emergency accommodation cost? What is the price the taxpayer pays to put children into these environments that cause so much pain?
Fact: it costs more to accommodate a family in emergency accommodation than in a luxury apartment
The figure for accommodating a family of four in emergency accommodation for a year is a staggering €69,000-€80,000. To put a family in one room, to put a huge strain on the mental and physical health of both the children and their parents. For context, American real estate fund Kennedy Wilson are renting out units in Dublin’s Capitol Dock Development, originally marketed as Dublin’s Most Desirable Address. On-site amenities include a concierge service, gym, fitness studio, business lounge, residents’ lounge, chef’s kitchen and a cinema room. Nearly half of these apartments are vacant today, potential homes sitting empty as families struggle through life in emergency accommodation. And the cost of renting one of these apartments is considerably less than what the taxpayer is paying per family for emergency accommodation. The biggest unit in the Capitol Dock building is a three-bed and the monthly cost is €4,017-€4,410. This is between €20,000 and €30,000 cheaper annually than putting a homeless family into a hotel or B&B for the year. Is this acceptable to people?
We owe it to these children to fight for them, to tell the government that we will no longer accept their hyperbole and broken promises. These children deserve a safe and secure home, something stated in the original constitution, and we have gotten further and further away from that in the last ten years. We all need to work together to get a referendum on the Right to Housing, and as Covid restrictions lift we need to see feet on the street for water-charges-level protests to shame the government into immediate action.
As the Manic Street Preachers song says, If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.
Brian McLoughlin is Head of Communications for Inner City Helping Homeless and one of the four contributors to Unite’s Take Four group blog, along with Conor McCabe, Ber Grogan and Laura Broxson.