Homeless families could end up living in Garda stations during pope’s visit – McVerry

Withdrawing support not solution to homeless families refusing HAP, says Housing Minister

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives to attend his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican last week. Photograph: Riccardo De Luca/AP

Pope Francis kisses a child as he arrives to attend his weekly general audience, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican last week. Photograph: Riccardo De Luca/AP


Homeless families could end up having to live in Garda stations during Pope Francis’s visit because they will have to move out of their hotel rooms, Fr Peter McVerry has warned.

The veteran homeless campaigner said families having to move out of hotel accommodation was a recurring problem, not just during the tourist season and because of the Pope’s visit

“Families are regularly told that their room has been pre-booked for a concert or a football match and they’ll have to move out for four or five days, find someplace else and then they can move back.

“ It’s going to be accentuated with the pope’s visit, you’re not going to get a hotel room within a hundred miles of Dublin,” he told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show.

“It’s a frightening scenario, I can see families living in Garda stations over that period.”

He also described the system of “self accommodating” as “absolutely appalling”.

“We helped one family find a hotel room recently, it took us 100 phone calls to find a hotel with a room that was prepared to take a homeless family. Asking a family to do that themselves is just outrageous, in my view.”

HAP accommodation

Fr McVerry also defended the decision by some families not to accept Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) accommodation. He made the comments following two reports considered by Cabinet on Tuesday which found homeless families are refusing tenancies in the private rented sector, preferring to stay homeless until they get a local authority home.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) report and a document compiled by the Homelessness Inter-Agency Group found many families are declining HAP tenancies as they do not believe they provide stability or security.

However, the interdepartmental group, consisting of the Department of Housing, Justice, Children and Public Expenditure, says the Government must consider whether this is an acceptable policy.

“Given the need to minimise the number of families in emergency accommodation, it also needs to be considered whether it is appropriate for the State to provide emergency accommodation to households who are unwilling to consider HAP, where HAP may offer an appropriate solution for that household.”

‘We have to ensure that people are not put off by HAP.’Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Eoghan Murphy: ‘We have to ensure that people are not put off by HAP.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Unsuitable accommodation

Fr McVerry said that sometimes the accommodation offered is not suitable, there is not enough space for the size of the family, it is not in the area where the children are going to school, or it is far from support services.

“Certainly there will be some people who will refuse on spurious grounds and that gets highlighted in media, ‘the back garden isn’t big enough for the trampoline’, but in many cases there may be very good reasons.

“My biggest problem is the Government trying to push homeless families into the private rental sector. Most of the families have been evicted from the private rental sector - they don’t want to back there, they were told to leave by a landlord, now they’re being told to go back there.”

Fr McVerry said the situation had arisen because the current and previous governments have “refused to build social housing on the scale that’s required”. He also said that while the Catholic Church “should make land available for social housing. . . ultimately it is not the Church that is going to solve this problem.”

‘Complex issues’

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said that withdrawing support is not a solution to the problem of people declining to avail of HAP. Mr Murphy said that the two reports were useful because of their recommendations which will assist in finding a pathway to accommodation for families.

Mr Murphy told Newstalk Breakfast that there are complex issues involved which was why the two reports were important. “There are flaws in the system that need to be addressed,” he said.

More work needs to be done to ensure that the accommodation being offered to people is right for them and meets their needs.

“HAP is a way to get people out of emergency accommodation and into private rental accommodation,” he said. “We have to ensure that people are not put off by HAP.”

‘Red herring’

Meanwhile the the director of advocacy with Focus Ireland said the reports of people refusing HAP accommodation are “a complete red herring”.

Mike Allen maintains that there has been “a complete collapse” of the HAP system with fewer properties being available to rent.

“It’s not acceptable to blame the homeless for the housing crisis,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

Independent Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn said the manner in which the reports were issued was “reckless” and had caused damage.

“The whole system has absolutely failed,” he said.

He called for the establishment of a single “fit for purpose” agency to take overall responsibility for the housing issue and that the main problem was that houses are not being built.

He said there was no discussion about the “catastrophic impact” this was having on families. Instead there was a culture of “blame and indifference”.

Mr Allen expressed concern that both reports proposed punitive measures for people who refused HAP offers.

He it was appalling that there was a threat “we’re going to throw you and your children out on the street if you don’t take it up.

“Instead of threatening, they should be improving the system,” he said.