A mother and six of her seven children were forced to stay in a Garda station in west Dublin on Wednesday night.
Margaret Cash (28), a member of the Traveller community and six of her children - aged between one and 11 - stayed at Tallaght Garda station after emergency homeless services were unable to find beds for them.
Ms Cash circulated pictures of her children sleeping on seats on social media.
Five children are photographed, asleep and fully clothed, lying across chairs in the brightly-lit seating area of Tallaght Garda station.
At least one further child not in the picture was said to be asleep on chairs elsewhere in building.
The photographs carried a caption saying: “Well after been 11 year on the housing list a year on the homeless dis is where my 7 kids have to sleep”.
Ms Cash, originally from Ballycragh in Tallaght, said she became homeless last September after the private house she was renting was repossessed and has been living in emergency accommodation ever since.
‘I’ve lost myself’
Speaking to The Irish Times on Thursday morning, Ms Cash said she was directed to go to the garda station by Focus Ireland and present as homeless.
This is the second time she has presented herself and her children at the Garda station and they “could be back here tonight”, said Ms Cash.
“I didn’t sleep, the kids eventually fell asleep around 1am. It was so hard,” she said.
“People coming in and out and the doors opening and closing. The baby was screaming crying, he had no way of turning around, he was stuck in the buggy. It was horrible.
“I’ve lost myself, I can’t even speak. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.”
Ms Cash said one of her children was recently released from Tallaght hospital following a viral infection and is staying with a family friend.
“She can’t do this, the child is sick,” Ms Cash said. “I have family but I’ve seven kids - who wants to take in seven kids when they have five or six of their own?
“They’re all stuck in three-bed [HOUSES]. They’d take you in the odd night, but they couldn’t take you in every night.”
Ms Cash said she is due to attend South Dublin County Council offices to explain her situation.
“I know what they’ll say already - ‘we’ll be in contact with you when something comes up’.
“What they’re saying is they’ve nowhere big enough for me, no homes big enough, no hotel rooms big enough,” she said.
“I’ve been 11 years on the housing list, they told me before I’ll be another four or five years waiting for a house.”
The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) said an “unprecedented number of families” presented out of hours seeking emergency accommodation on Wednesday.
“We were notified by the Family Homeless Action Team that they were actively engaged with 10 families, who were unable to source their own accommodation,” a statement from DRHE said.
“Our central placement team were able to source emergency accommodation for five of the families, one family refused the offer of accommodation, two of the families were linked back in with their region (outside of Dublin) and two did not seek further assistance.”
The executive’s director Eileen Gleeson said told RTE’s News at One that on Wednesday night, 10 families sought emergency accommodation. Of that 10, five were placed in emergency accommodation, two returned to their original regio, which was outside Dublin, one refused the offer of emergency accommodation and two did not seek further assistance.
“I’m assuming they were one of the families that did not seek further assistance. If they had stayed in touch we could have helped.”
Ms Gleeson said the executive is working hard to facilitate every request for emergency accommodation.
“We have contingency plans, we have contingency beds for crisis situations. If people refuse it, that’s their choice, but there’s no good reason to refuse it,” she said.
Finding emergency accommodation for everyone who needed it was a challenge. “We are working on the frontline every day of the week.”
Plans are already in place for the Papal visit, she said, as there are for any major sporting event or concert. “The Papal visit is 36 hours, that’s one night. It will make no difference in getting a room, but it may come to a pressure point.
The situation in Tallaght Garda station on Wednesday night was not the norm, she said. “We were all morally outraged by it.”
It would be much better if families could seek emergency accommodation earlier in the evening, she added. “But we don’t know why they are in crisis situation late in the evening.”
Focus Ireland said directing homeless families to Garda stations is “the only thing available” when there is no emergency accommodation available.
“This isn’t a Focus Ireland policy, the State is directing people towards Garda stations as they are a place of safety,” a Focus Ireland spokesman said. “It is not acceptable and we are not happy to do that but it is the only thing available in certain situations.”
The Garda said “a young mother and her six children aged from 11 years to one year presented at Tallaght Garda station during the night as they had nowhere to go.”
The Garda said attempts had been made to find the family emergency accommodation but these were not successful.
“The family were cared for during the night by the members working and received a hot breakfast this morning in Tallaght Garda station.”
Anthony Flynn, chief executive of aid agency Inner City Helping Homeless, was one of those who reposted the photographs on Facebook alongside the comment: “This is what this country has succumbed to, this is how homeless services are treating our children. I’m in utter shock, seven children sleep in one city Garda station and 8 families referred to stations as nowhere to send them.”
Mr Flynn told The Irish Times up to eight families may have spent the night in Garda stations across the city on Wednesday.
Mr Flynn said the situation showed emergency housing services in Dublin were now “in turmoil”, with 48 families spending the night in Garda stations last month and 47 the month before last.
He said the visit of Pope Francis later this month to attend the World Meeting of Families would make the problem much more difficult and called for the Taoiseach to recall the Dáil from its summer holidays to address the situation.