Murphy says ‘very difficult phone call to take’ when rough sleeper dies

Bríd Smith ‘ashamed’ of Ireland with the deaths of eight homeless people since August

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy: he said 200 additional permanent emergency beds would be ready by mid-December. Photograph:  Cyril Byrne

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy: he said 200 additional permanent emergency beds would be ready by mid-December. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has told the Dáil it is a “very difficult phone call to take” when he is informed of the death of a rough sleeper. He said that was why he had made a commitment to ensure there would be 200 additional beds in place for people who were sleeping rough.

He said 50 beds were in place and the remaining 150 would be ready in one- and two-bed facilities by mid-December. These would be permanent emergency beds for rough sleepers.

The Minister expressed “my sympathy and condolences to the family of the lady who died in Cork”.

Mr Murphy was responding to People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, who said the woman who died in Cork was the third homeless person to die in the past eight days, and the eighth to die on the State’s streets since August.

“I don’t know how you feel about that, Minister, but I feel pretty ashamed of this country to have that knowledge.”

She said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had attempted to try and “politically normalise this and say it happens everywhere so it’s not a big deal”.

“It is a big deal, and it’s an even bigger deal when you have people like the McVerry Trust...and political parties screaming at you to declare a housing emergency”.

Mr Murphy told her that he was informed when someone sleeping on the streets dies. “I am one of the first people to be notified about the circumstances of their death, and it is a very difficult phone call to take, I can assure you of that.”

Welfare supports

That was why he would have 200 additional permanent emergency beds ready by mid-December, the Minister said.

He said rough sleepers would have access to health and welfare supports, and as the weather got colder his department was working with local authorities to ensure their cold-weather initiatives for the homeless were in place.

He added that the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive worked with the voluntary sector and rough sleeper units to get people into sheltered accommodation.

Ms Smith questioned why the Government would not declare a housing emergency that would allow it to compulsorily purchase large swathes of land and to borrow off-balance sheet.

She highlighted the case of three men who had attended her clinic on Monday. All of them were working and about to be made homeless.

“They don’t have a problem with drugs and drink. They’re not chaotic. They didn’t make bad choices, but they’re about to be made homeless for a soup of different reasons.”

She said one was about to be divorced and could not afford current rents on apartments. Another’s home was being repossessed, and the third man was being made homeless because the landlord was selling the property he was renting. Ms Smith said the Government was failing to deal with this.

Compulsory orders

The Minister said some of the new facilities the Government was opening up, the 50-bed facility in Cabra, were being run by the McVerry Trust, one of the State’s partner organisations.

He said compulsory orders were being used extensively in counties like Louth.

“We are building more social housing through local authorities and housing bodies. We are acquiring more homes in social housing stock, and we are long-term leasing as well.

“As I have recognised, the responsibility for social housing that was outsourced by previous governments – we are taking that responsibility back.”