Homelessness crisis envelops a spiralling number of children

Law must protect them, say Focus Ireland and Ombudsman for Children

During the week of April 24th to April 30th there were 2,708 homeless children in 1,302 families across the State, compared with 2,643 in 1,256 families in March. Photograph: Getty Images

During the week of April 24th to April 30th there were 2,708 homeless children in 1,302 families across the State, compared with 2,643 in 1,256 families in March. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The homelessness crisis is enveloping a spiralling number of children – 2,708 at the end of April, in 1,302 families across the State – and the law needs to change to protect them, according to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, Focus Ireland and other child and housing advocates.

Those figures have risen from 2,643 children, in 1,256 families, in March, according to data published on Thursday by the Department of Housing. In Dublin the numbers were 2,262 children in 1,091 families last month, up from 2,214 children, in 1,069 families, in emergency accommodation in March.

Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr has called for sanctions against hotels that have beds but refuse them to homeless families as authorities move to ensure emergency accommodation is available for every family that needs it in Dublin.

This follows the “horrific” situation on Tuesday night when 12 families in Dublin, including more than 30 children, were told to go to Garda stations because there was no emergency accommodation. They included three families who went at Store Street Garda station but chose instead to sleep in a nearby park.

Also among the families was Cheryl Barnewell, a 26-year-old from Finglas, her partner, Glenn, and their children, nine-year-old Clayton and one-year-old Rocco, who went to Finglas Garda station. The Inner City Helping Homeless charity brought them to its office, where they and another family slept on roll-out mattresses.

Protocol

A spokeswoman said that Dublin Region Homeless Executive had been notified of seven families unable to find hotel rooms on Tuesday and that the protocol is for Focus Ireland to take families to Garda stations, to ensure their safety, if accommodation cannot be found late at night.

Children’s Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon described sending a family to a Garda station as shocking. “Housing policy and legislation do not adequately consider the individual rights and welfare of children. As the first anniversary of Rebuilding Ireland approaches, a review is necessary to outline the measures in place to support children and families in homeless services,” he said. “National quality standards for homeless services are also needed, to monitor emergency accommodation.”

Mike Allen of Focus Ireland said it was now beyond doubt that a Government directive was necessary to ensure that no homeless family could be turned away without a bed for the night. “It is just over a year ago that the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, invited us to meet him on the issue, and we gave the same warning,” he said, referring to the risk of families’ being left without emergency accommodation.

Resources

Mr Kenny had “implied” he would ensure this would not happen, citing an August 2015 news report in which Mr Kenny said: “If a family becomes homeless in Dublin this evening as a result of being moved out of a B&B, or for whatever reason, the local authority involved . . . will have the resources to supply emergency accommodation for that family.”

Mr Allen said Focus Ireland’s homeless action team, which linked in with families at risk of sleeping rough, had been in contact with 11 of the 12 families directed to Garda stations on Tuesday, and had found hotel accommodation for them for the next few nights.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said on Thursday it was unacceptable that a child should ever be told to sleep at a Garda station. “Quite clearly Garda stations are not suitable places for families to be redirected to in any circumstances.’’

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive spokeswoman said the number of contingency emergency beds for families to access late at night when no other option was available had been doubled from seven to 14 since Wednesday.