Immediate action ‘needed’ on unregulated homeless services

Dublin Regional Homeless Executive report notes ‘undignified’ model of on-street services

The report noted that ‘no attention is paid to nutritional needs or food safety’. File photograph: Damien Eagers

The report noted that ‘no attention is paid to nutritional needs or food safety’. File photograph: Damien Eagers

 

Volunteer groups providing food and tents to Dublin’s homeless are undermining regulated services and exposing vulnerable people to “undignified” and “unsafe” conditions, a report commissioned by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive states.

Independent consultant Mary Higgins said in her report that volunteer groups were potentially supporting people to remain on the streets, yet homeless people were “not the main users of the services”.

Her research, based on-street observation and interviews with homeless services, volunteer groups, officials, businesses, and residents of private emergency accommodation, indicated in some cases food stalls were attracting drug dealing and that tents were being used for prostitution.

Up to 20 unofficial homelessness organisations are operating in Dublin city, with reports of rough sleepers being woken several times during the night to be offered food by various groups.

The groups “do not have the skills or experience to engage with people who are homeless, and there are examples of their interventions undermining the work of mainstream providers and possibly supporting people to remain on or return to the streets”, she said.

“The model of on-street services where people queue for food and eat in full public view on the main streets of the city is inherently undignified and is potentially unsafe. No attention is paid to nutritional needs or food safety and the crowds that gather at the food stalls are thought to attract drug dealing and other unsavoury activity, putting people who are vulnerable at risk.”

Potential ‘grooming’

Ms Higgins said interviews with those living in emergency accommodation indicated a “very low usage” of on-street stalls.

“The depiction of the on-street services as helping people who are homeless was contested by most review participants, who believed that they were used by a wide range of people ‘most of them probably not homeless’ and thought to include people ‘who happened to be passing by’, those who are on a break from work,” she said. “Taxi drivers were particularly mentioned.”

Those interviewed also raised concern about potential “grooming, proselytising and political recruitment,” she said “Other concerns were expressed about the fact that there is no Garda vetting of volunteers, that people who are recovering addicts, with no other qualifications, are volunteers.”

There was, Ms Higgins said, a “failure” by officials to “protect the welfare and safety members of the public and people who are homeless and vulnerable by implementing and enforcing existing regulations in relation to charities, food safety, services for people who are homeless, and obstructive behaviour”.

She said there was a need to “take immediate action to address risks of on-street services”.