Owen Keegan defends saying homeless numbers would drop if services cut

Dublin City Council chief says system should reflect municipal districts in US

Owen Keegan: ‘I was trying to make a point if we really wanted to cut numbers, then cut the service’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Owen Keegan: ‘I was trying to make a point if we really wanted to cut numbers, then cut the service’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Dublin City Council’s chief executive Owen Keegan has defended comments he made at the weekend in which he said homeless numbers would drop if homeless services were cut.

He told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) operates a “very open system” and that one of the prices to be paid for such “a compassionate response” is that such services “are a magnet” for people.

“I was trying to make a point if we really wanted to cut numbers, then cut the service. I’m very unhappy with the numbers.”

Mr Keegan said it was a jocular comment because there are municipal districts in the US where they “deal” with the problem of homelessness by decreeing it against the law and then move people outside the town’s boundaries.

In an interview with the Sunday Business Post, Mr Keegan said local authority’s success in providing quality homeless accommodation is creating a danger of excessive demand and that some people may not want to leave.

“The best way to solve homelessness in Dublin would be to provide no beds,” Mr Keegan is quoted as saying. “When you go out of your way to increase accommodation and improve the standards of that accommodation, it’s a much more attractive place to be, that’s just the reality.”

Choices

The high homeless figures in Dublin are not a negative as such, he said on Today with Sean O’Rourke, as “people now have choices they didn’t have before.”

He wanted to acknowledge the work of the DRHE and he had been seeking to explain why Dublin figures are “so high”.

“The reality is that if we make better services available, people are happy to access them.”

Mr Keegan explained that because services are better, people who previously would have stayed with their family or parents in cramped conditions, were instead presenting as homeless in a bid to access permanent social housing.

“There are cases where people turn down accommodation (under the HAP scheme). People choose to wait in temporary housing pending an offer of permanent social housing.”

He also pointed out that many people in homeless services have a range of complex problems and should be receiving help elsewhere. These were the people who he had said “won’t move on”. They are not capable of independent living, he said.

Complex needs

“Homeless services are not the place for people with complex needs, but really homeless services are the only people offering services. It is not the best option for them.”

Mr Keegan said that he is very confident that Dublin City Council will achieve the target figures set by Central Government for social housing. But the problem is not going to be solved until there is a significant growth in private accommodation.

“We’re not in a position to meet all the burdens of housing needs. We are dependent on further significant recovery.”

He anticipates 1,500 social housing units will be completed by Dublin City Council in the next two to three years. Meeting targets will be achieved through a combination of direct builds, leasing, and HAP.

He said that he can see “considerable merit” in the HAP system which was a way of getting people into sustainable tenancies.