‘I can’t keep doing this’, says homeless woman told to seek shelter in Garda station

‘I am trying to get my son to school, mind my younger son all while making phone calls trying to find a room’

 Cheryl Barnwell with her children Clayton (9) and Rocco (23 months). Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Cheryl Barnwell with her children Clayton (9) and Rocco (23 months). Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A woman who spent the night with her family in the office of a homeless charity after she was referred to a Garda station has said “I can’t keep doing this”.

Cheryl Barnwell, her two sons, Clayton (9) and Rocco (23 months) and her partner, were one of 12 families , including more than 30 children, referred to a Garda station on Tuesday night because no other emergency accommodation was available.

All 12 families were already homeless and “self-accommodating” on a night-to-night basis as they had not been provided with medium-term “emergency” accommodation.

They were unable to find hotel or B&B beds and when all emergency options had been looked at, and not accommodation found, families were directed to present themselves at their local Garda stations.

Ms Barnwell said the situation was heartbreaking.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Cheryl Barnwell said that this is no way for families to live and the proposed family hubs were not sufficient because they are just hotels, with the hotel name removed.

“I am trying to get my partner to work, my older son to school, then mind my younger son, all while making phone calls trying to find a room.

Massaging figures

“Calling these family hubs is just massaging figures. They are still hotels.”

She said everyone should have their own home and privacy. “There’s enough accommodation around Dublin for everyone. Or so we’re told. We should have our own home.

Ms Barnwell said she had worked since she was 14 years old and explained that her family became homeless seven- and-a-half months ago after her landlord decided to stop renting to Dublin City Council tenants.

Until then, she said, she had worked full-time and she and her partner had paid the equivalent of a mortgage in rent.

She said she had to give up her job because it is too difficult to do everything while also searching for accommodation on a daily basis. “This is no way to live. I’ve worked all my life since I was 14. I’ve tried to teach my children that you have to work for everything.”

“My nine year old is fully aware of what is happening. He sees me ringing around. He just wants a home so he can play with his pals.”

She said she rang around 40 hotels and B&Bs between 9am and 6pm on Tuesday and then rang the Dublin City Council self-accommodation line, who advised her to contact Focus Ireland, who in turn advised her to attend a Garda station.

Ms Barnwell said she later went to a Garda station where she was told that, unless they were arrested, they could not sleep in a cell.

She said the family stayed in their car until midnight, when they received a text from the head of Inner City Helping Homeless Anthony Flynn.

She, her partner and two sons then spent the night in the charity’s office.

Mr Flynn said Tuesday night was one of the worse he has seen in four years of homeless services.

He said he rang over 55 hotels between midnight and 1.30am and not one was able to accommodate the family.

Whitewash

Speaking on the same programme, Mr Flynn said the family hubs, proposed by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney, is a recategorisation of hotel accommodation and described it as a “whitewash”.

The time and effort being spent on sourcing these hubs, he said, could be spent sourcing houses and apartments for families.

He said the “family hubs” are a “white wash” and “recategorisation”.

“It is exactly the same building, just recategorised. They are not moving people out of homelessness. It is white washing.”

“We’ve met the Minister. We have told him that his plan is not going to work. Hotels are being bought under five years leases. They are recategorisated as ‘family hubs’ – but it is still the same building.

“The time and money being spent on this could be spent on apartment blocks.”

“I can’t keep doing this. I am trying to get my partner to work, my older son to school, then mind my younger son, all while making phone calls trying to find a room.

“Calling these family hubs is just massaging figures. They are still hotels.

“There’s enough accommodation around Dublin for everyone. Or so we’re told. We should have our own home.

The director of advocacy at Focus Ireland said the Government’s efforts on emergency accommodation were “misplaced”.

“If they put the same amount of energy into a commitment into preventing families from being turfed out of their rented homes... we would have a more positive effect,” said Focus Ireland director of advocacy Mike Allen

He told Newstalk Breakfast and RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that a change in legislation was needed to more accurately reflect the current homeless situation in Ireland.

“The current legislation was written for homeless single men. It has not been updated to take into account children and families and their needs.

“What are the new statutory responsibilities? There should be legislation that ensures no families sleep rough.”

Focus Ireland says that the number of homeless families in Dublin is “now well over a thousand”.

Mr Allen said that his organisation has been warning for two years that this situation could arise.

He said the situation on Tuesday night was “horrific” when there were no hotel rooms as emergency accommodation for 12 families.

“That was the highest number ever. One or two families would send shockwaves through our organisation. But to have 12 families – 30 children and one pregnant woman, without a bed, was horrific.”