Homeless families no longer staying in Garda stations

Before emergency system changed 200 families last year were sent to Dublin stations

Margaret Cash with her children Johnny, Thomas, Michael, Andy, Jim and Miley – images of them sleeping in a Garda station made headlines last August.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Margaret Cash with her children Johnny, Thomas, Michael, Andy, Jim and Miley – images of them sleeping in a Garda station made headlines last August. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Homeless families were advised to stay in Garda stations overnight on almost 200 occasions last year after failing to find emergency accommodation but there have been no reports of the issue arising this year.

Focus Ireland helped assist families that presented seeking emergency accommodation for the night until October of last year and said there were 199 instances of families being directed to Garda stations when no accommodation was available.

Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) took over responsibility for running the family evening placement service from Focus Ireland in October and said it had “no reports” of families being referred to Garda stations since then.

The issue of homeless families presenting at Garda stations came to prominence last August after images surfaced on social media of Margaret Cash and six of her seven children sleeping in Tallaght Garda station.

Ms Cash said she had been unable to secure suitable emergency accommodation for the night and that it was the second time her family had been forced to present as homeless at the station.

Focus Ireland said directing families to Garda stations was a “safety net” to ensure no families ended up sleeping outdoors.

“In 2018, the Focus Ireland board decided to publish each month the number of families advised to go to the Garda station because no emergency accommodation was available. This triggered a high-level meeting with the Department of Housing and the DRHE,” a spokesman for the charity said.

“As a consequence of this the DRHE took responsibility for the situation and, in collaboration with Focus Ireland, put in place effective procedures and sufficient ‘fail safe’ emergency accommodation.”

The DRHE said it has a support team that works with families who present in “crisis need” and have a number of “contingency placements” that can be used.

“The DRHE does not refer families to Garda stations and we have no reports of any family being referred to a Garda station since the DRHE took over the service,” a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the number of people residing in “own door” temporary accommodation is continuing to rise with 217 families in the Dublin area recorded as living in these independent units in February, including 617 children.

These families are accommodated by local authorities in temporary accommodation with its own doors rather than traditional emergency accommodation such as hostels, family hubs or hotel rooms.

Official data

Families in these temporary homes were removed from official homeless figures from March of last year following a controversial re-categorisation exercise by the Government.

However, local authorities say none of these families are deemed housed or have a lease with tenants’ rights, and in most cases the accommodation is wholly or partially funded through funding specifically for homeless accommodation, and they are still recorded on “Pass,” the national homeless database system.

Focus Ireland has warned that excluding people living in “own door” units from official data could undermine efforts to address homelessness and that previous figures provided a clearer picture of the overall situation. The homeless charity also warned that creating a second tier of homelessness, based on the type of emergency accommodation, risked obscuring the dynamics of family homelessness.

Official statistics from the Department of Housing show 10,262 people, including 3,784 children, were homeless across the State in February, the first time the number has exceeded 10,000.

In Dublin, there were 1,288 families, including 2,806 children, living in emergency accommodation in February, an increase of 67 families. The number of families living in emergency accommodation in Dublin has remained relatively stable since peaking at 1,367 last July.

The DRHE said the rise in families needing help, coupled with the low number of “exits to tenancy” for families, had contributed to the overall increase in families accessing emergency accommodation.