New emergency accommodation for homeless families, due to fully open at the end of this month, aims to be “as close to a home as possible”.
Operated by the Respond housing association, it is a model Minister for Housing Simon Coveney hopes can be replicated to enable him to fulfil his promise that by July no homeless family will be placed in a hotel.
Latest figures show there were 1,028 families, including 2,096 children, in emergency accommodation in Dublin in December. The majority of these were in single hotel rooms without cooking or laundry facilities.
High Park Family Hub in Drumcondra, which has been opening gradually since November, provides bright, warm bedrooms, as well as cooking and laundry facilities, a diningroom where one hot meal a day is served, a play area with toys, a youth room with board games and television, and an arts room. Each family is assigned two key workers on arrival.
Some 22 families, including 31 children aged between four months and 11 years, are now staying there. When full, it will accommodate 41 families, each paying between €37 and €45 per week.
Respond's new chief executive Declan Dunne, who took up his post in August, said he saw an "immediate need" for a different emergency response to family homelessness. "We have all heard their stories: kids having nowhere to do homework, teenagers sleeping in the same room as mam and dad, nowhere to cook nutritious food. It really is not okay," he said.
Dunne arrived at High Park, Respond’s headquarters in a former Magdalene laundry, when 41 bedrooms were being let for student accommodation.
“Student accommodation is important, but it’s not the priority. I looked around this beautiful building and thought, ‘Why aren’t we using this to offer something different to families? Instead of spending money on for-profit hotels, why aren’t we investing in quality services?”
He proposed his plan to Dublin City Council and after "two months of selling it", he was given the go-ahead in October. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) has funded the €115,000 start-up costs – some of which was spent on Ikea furnishings and will cover the annual costs of €845,000 per year. Dunnes estimates the cost of the service, per family, to be about 70 per cent that of a hotel room alone.
While it had been anticipated that families would move here from hotels, most have been newly homeless and placed straight into High Park.
Among them are Danny (26, not his real name), his wife and two young children, who had been "couch-surfing" for more than a year. They had lost their one-bedroom apartment and had been looking for somewhere to live "anywhere between Baltinglass [Co Wicklow] to Laytown [Co Meath]. We went to about 50 viewings before Christmas. We were offered a few houses but as soon as they heard we were on rent allowance, they'd change their mind.
“So we were staying with my mother, a cousin’s. It was hard cooking, trying to do laundry, trying to keep the kids okay and the stress of trying to find somewhere to live.
“We’ve been here a week now, and the butterflies of relief when they told us they’d help us find a place, come to viewings with us. We have our own room and share this kitchen with four other families. We can do a bag of washing whenever we need. The kids are sleeping better, loving having a routine.
“We feel we are ahead of ourselves here. Before it felt like we were constantly running and couldn’t catch up.”