Long-term homelessness resulting from years of “bad behaviour” cannot be solved by “ad hoc” unauthorised groups handing out “cups of soup” or tents, the head of Dublin’s homeless services has said.
Vulnerable homeless people could be missing out on the chance of permanent accommodation because of short-term food and shelter options provided by "well meaning" but unofficial groups, the director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson, told Dublin city councillors.
The executive spends €96 million annually funding 22 non-governmental organisations which provide 88 services to Dublin’s homeless, Ms Gleeson said. However, there were approximately 18-20 more volunteer groups offering food or tents to rough sleepers. Some of these groups were known to collect data from homeless people, but they did not have links with the executive, and the executive did not know if they were Garda vetted.
“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 the council’s policing committee.
“It takes as long again probably to work them back in through the system. So they’re afraid to come in, they’re reluctant, they’re quite happy to continue with the chaotic lifestyle they have, and if somebody provides them with some sort of halfway shelter they’ll willingly take it.”
There was, she said, a particular problem with homeless people living in tents along the Royal Canal.
“Some of them are serial, long-term homeless people who keep coming in and out of the service and I suppose what’s happening on the Royal Canal is a symptomatic of these groups trying to do the right thing. And as a result, they are giving out tents to people and people are using them rather than coming into the services,” she said. “I would be of the opinion that if there wasn’t a group going down there and feeding them every day they might not stay there much longer.”
Ms Gleeson said she was also concerned that homelessness was being “sensationalised” in a way which was hampering the council’s ability to provide services.
“These are individuals, they are real people and we need to treat them like they are real people and to respond in a way that’s humane rather than sensationalising them. This is a particular bugbear of mine – the perception of the homeless person in society,” she said. “The man asleep in the door of a shop front in Grafton Street or O’Connell Street isn’t necessarily the true picture of homelessness. Because we have the perception they are the person in the door in O’Connell Street we run into constant legal challenges in providing facilities.”
Homeless people were “entitled to dignity” and the executive wanted to continue to work with “professional services” who would “link people in” to the supports which could end the cycle of homelessness, Ms Gleeson said.
“If they’re only getting a cup of soup and they’re homeless it isn’t helpful. They need to be getting a cup of soup and a link too, so we can support them to get out of homelessness.
“Ad hoc services on the street don’t help us in providing an end result for people who might otherwise move through to permanent housing .”