Volunteers giving only food to homeless ‘not helpful’, official says

Long-term homelessness results from years of ‘bad behaviour’, says senior official

Volunteer groups who are only handing out food and clothing on the streets to long-term homeless people are not helping them, a senior local authority official has said.

Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, said long-term homelessness resulting from years of "bad behaviour" cannot be solved by the efforts of "ad hoc" unauthorised groups.

“Let’s be under no illusion here, when somebody becomes homeless it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years of bad behaviour probably, or behaviour that isn’t the behaviour of you and me,” she told Dublin City Council’s policing committee.

“They’re afraid to come in, they’re reluctant, they’re quite happy to continue with the chaotic lifestyle they have. If somebody provides them with some sort of halfway shelter they’ll willingly take it.”


Homeless people are “entitled to dignity”, she said, but they must be linked up with expert staff who can break the cycle and get them off the streets permanently.

“If they’re only getting a cup of soup and they’re homeless it isn’t helpful,” she told councillors.

Mike Allen, the director of advocacy with homeless charity Focus Ireland acknowledged that some voluntary groups were not helping the homelessness situation.

‘Misguided effort’

He told Newstalk Breakfast on Wednesday that Ms Gleeson could have chosen better language and that it was not helpful to say anything negative about people trying to help the homeless.

However, he said a lot of the voluntary groups did not know the correct protocol for accessing services and sometimes operated in isolation, even with a degree of rivalry with official teams.

“Some homeless people find it very difficult to engage with the system that’s why there are protocols to help them.”

He said that on occasions he had heard of well meaning volunteers offering to bring homeless families to their own homes. “They are so well meaning but this goes against all protocols with regard to child safety.

“It is a misguided effort to help. There is a need to change the system.”

Mr Allen said that homeless people are caught between well meaning volunteers and State services. He also admitted that there are tensions between State services and voluntary groups.

He urged all volunteers to sit down and work with existing organisations such as Focus Ireland, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Dublin Homeless Trust to see how they can all work together constructively.

Social housing units

Ms Gleeson’s remarks came on the same day figures emerged which indicate that less than 1 per cent of the social housing units required to provide homes for households on waiting lists across the State have actually been built by local authorities or approved housing bodies since the start of last year.

While there were 120,598 households on waiting lists at the end of last September, just 1,093 social housing dwellings have been built since January 2016. That amounts to 0.9 per cent of the number on the waiting lists, according to the data compiled by analyst and architect Mel Reynolds.

The figures show 638 social housing units were built last year and 455 in the first six months of this year. Approved housing bodies built 634 and local authorities 459.

In Dublin’s four local authority areas, just 478 homes were built, but there are 40,207 families and individuals on the waiting lists. In the first six months of this year no social housing was built directly by three of the capital’s local authorities, which have combined waiting list of 33,180 households. The fourth, Fingal, which has a waiting list of 7,027, built 10 units.

The State’s ability to fund the construction of extra social housing could be put in jeopardy if an investigation reclassifies how Ireland accounts for its funding of the largest housing agencies.

Non-profit agencies

The European Union's independent statistics agency, Eurostat, has asked the Central Statistics Office to review whether non-profit agencies that manage more than 300 homes should be reconsidered as being on the State's books.

A change in their off-balance-sheet treatment could deprive the non-profit agencies of critical State funding and disrupt Government plans to rely on the sector to provide a third of its target of 50,000 social housing units by 2021 under the Rebuilding Ireland programme to address the severe housing shortage.

Sitting off the Government’s books enables so-called “approved housing bodies” to borrow State funds through local authorities to provide a range of social housing and housing assistance schemes.

Department of Housing statistics show the sector has received State funding of close to €1.6 billion over the decade to the end of 2016 with tens of millions of euro more drawn so far this year.

Annual appeal

Meanwhile, the Society of St Vincent de Paul is on Wednesday launching its annual Christmas appeal as it expects to assist 50,000 people this year.

The charity’s national president of Kieran Stafford said more families were struggling to put food on the table, to keep their homes warm and with educational costs.

He told RTÉ's Morning Ireland the charity was coming across an increasing number of working families which were finding it difficult to make ends meet.

“We know that Christmas is not the same for everybody,” he remarked.

He pointed out that recent Government figures had highlighted there were 139,000 children in Ireland living in consistent poverty, missing two essential meals a week.

Mr Stafford appealed for cash donations which were the best means for the society to supply families with exactly what they needed. However, they also appreciated donations of food, toys and clothing.