Campaigners ‘appalled’ and ‘furious’ at homeless comments

Housing official says she doesn’t want to get into a ‘slagging match with service providers’

Fr Peter  McVerry said there were no written standards for emergency accommodation in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fr Peter McVerry said there were no written standards for emergency accommodation in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Leading homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has expressed his anger at comments by a senior housing official about the merits of handouts to people who are living long-term on the streets.

Another prominent charity worker Brother Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre said he was “appalled” by the statement made by Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, to a meeting of Dublin City Council’s policing committee.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that Ms Gleeson told the committee that long-term homelessness resulting from years of “bad behaviour” could not 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 said volunteer groups which gave only food and clothing to the long-term homeless were allowing them “to continue with the chaotic lifestyle they have”, highlighting the need for other interventions.

Fr McVerry said “I am furious at what Eileen Gleeson said and at what the Taoiseach said the other day,” in a reference to Leo Varadkar’s claim that the homelessness rate in Ireland was low by international standards.

Fr McVerry said Ms Gleeson’s comments were an insult to homeless people, many of whom had become homeless because their landlord evicted them not because of bad behaviour.

‘No written standards’

Questioning the emphasis Ms Gleeson was putting on the regulation of services, Fr McVerry said there were no written standards for emergency accommodation in Dublin and if there were half of them would be closed down.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, the campaigner said his organisation had never been inspected.

However, Ms Gleeson insisted the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive had carried out inspections of the Peter McVerry Trust under service level agreements.

She said she didn’t want to get into a “slagging match with service providers” as “we are all on the same side” but she insisted there were standards required for emergency accommodation providers under the national quality standards framework.

Ms Gleeson repeated her assertion that voluntary groups were not a solution to the homelessness problem. “Soup and a sandwich are not going to solve the problem.”

However, Brother Kevin Crowley strongly criticised Ms Gleeson’s comments, noting the Capuchin Day Centre had seen a huge increase in people seeking assistance. So far this year it had given out 64,745 food parcels and provided 237,452 meals.

He pointed out that people were afraid to go to shelters because of theft and drugs. “It is appalling how some people are treated in hostels.”

“I am appealing to the Taoiseach to do something about the housing situation,” he added, expanding on criticism which he levelled against Mr Varadkar in a letter to The Irish Times.

It was appalling that €8million was paid to one hotel in one year, he added. “How many homes would that money have built?”

In reply, Ms Gleeson said there were drug free hostels. She said the system was not perfect, not ideal and that the issue was complex.

“Get people off the streets, get them housing,” urged Brother Crowley.

He also said that buying a homeless a person a cup of tea or coffee and a sandwich was better than giving them money which they might spend on drink or drugs.

‘Better language’

Later, Ms Gleeson said: “To be honest, I could have probably used better language in trying to explain the point I was trying to make.

“But the point I was trying to make was the outcomes are higher for people who are engaged with the system,” she told Ciara Kelly on Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live.

“The point I was trying to make was that while they’re well-intentioned, and there is nothing per se wrong with what people are doing in providing voluntary services - but homeless people deserve to be treated with dignity and humanity and they deserve to be treated with services that will allow them to link through so we can get them out of homelessness.

“While the volunteer services are doing a great job and they’re well-intentioned, they’re not necessarily getting people to the outcome that’s needed, which is to get them out of homelessness - and that’s the point I was trying to make.

“I was answering a direct question that I was asked by one of our public reps.”

Fr McVerry said the existing emergency homeless services were “awful and inadequate”.

He said the Taoiseach could not compare Ireland with other OCED countries because they included people “sofa surfing” and staying with their parents until they could afford accommodation of their own.

“If we included those people in our figures then our homeless figures would be between 70,000 and 80,000.”

The only solution was to build social housing at an intensive rate. “Dublin City Council could build 12,000 social houses immediately on land they have available and already serviced.”