Homelessness charity told not to send people without emergency accommodation to Garda stations

Focus Ireland says lack of options means crisis is deepening for homeless families

Demonstrators from the Raise the Roof housing campaign protest outside Leinster House, Dublin, against the ending of the eviction ban. Photograph: Laura Hutton

An Garda Síochána has requested that homeless people without emergency accommodation options not be sent to their stations due to potentially inappropriate surroundings for children and safety concerns, Focus Ireland has said.

The homeless charity has engaged with An Garda Síochána through meetings and in writing and received its position on station attendance a number of weeks ago.

While understanding its views, charity coordinator Louise Bayliss said it was of concern given the worsening crisis, particularly given the shortage of last-minute emergency accommodation for families.

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“The guards have already come very clearly back to us: do not send them to garda stations,” Ms Bayliss said, outlining the deepening crisis facing those who lose their homes and cannot access emergency shelter.

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“They have said they cannot guarantee the safety of people in a Garda station. Their legal obligation is to guarantee the safety of people in custody behind the counter; they do not always have the staff to have somebody sitting at the counter.

“They do not know who’s going to come through the doors, what children would see, what they could encounter. What they’re saying is, please don’t send them to us.”

Gardaí did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The issue of accommodation options for evicted tenants was the subject of heated Dáil exchanges in recent days following the highly controversial move to end the moratorium.

Wayne Stanley, executive director of the Simon Communities of Ireland, said he was aware of the garda position, but said outside of the Dublin area its support staff had not had to recommend a station attendance to anyone seeking emergency accommodation.

“[The Government] has pulled the safety net away without putting in place a contingency,” he said of the broader issue. “The [required level of] emergency accommodation is not yet there.”

Ms Bayliss was speaking during a Raise the Roof Homes for All protest against the cessation of the eviction ban outside the Dáil on Thursday afternoon, attended by charities, unions and several opposition TDs.

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Cork musician Martin Leahy (47), who has been facing eviction for almost a year, has maintained a weekly singing protest outside Leinster House for 47 weeks.

Having moved away from Cork City seven years ago due to rising rents, he said even the rural area near Bandon was prohibitive on the basis of cost and availability.

“It’s a kind of a terrifying prospect. The last time I was looking to rent was about seven years ago but this time I’ve realised that I just can’t do it,” he said. “This was the first time where I was facing eviction and when I went to go somewhere there was nowhere to go.”

Emily Murtagh, an accommodation policy officer at the Irish Traveller Movement, said the collapse in accommodation options was having a disproportionate affect on members of the Travelling community who had already been suffering.

“When Travellers enter homelessness they are much more likely to still be there two years later,” she said. “Some of the reasons for that are around the discrimination in the private rental sector.”

According to data produced by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) respectively, Travellers are 22 per cent more likely to experience discrimination in housing, while 82 per cent of landlords said they were unwilling to rent to them.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times