About 70 homeless people who got emergency beds during last week’s severe weather had not been engaging with homeless services before the storm. They included people sleeping in cars, squats and in one case in their place of work.
Pat Doyle, chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust, which provided up to 121 extreme weather beds at a sports hall in Dublin 8, said "about 35 to 38 people" who slept there had never engaged with homeless services before, while at least 30 more were "entrenched rough sleepers, people of extreme concern to us, who until the storm wouldn't come into services".
Among those previously unknown were three Irish brothers, two in their 60s and one in his 50s, who it is thought had been living in a squat. “We are engaging them now. I think we will be able to find them something permanent. They don’t need much minding, just support.”
Another previously unknown was a non-national who had been sleeping at his workplace, with his employer’s permission. “During the snow it was closed so he was out with nowhere to sleep and no money.”
We, all of us – the HSE, the Department of Justice, Social Protection – have to review this calmly, without judgment and learn how can we respond better to the most vulnerable and marginalised
Describing them as “the most marginalised of the marginalised”, he said most were now engaged with services. The urgency and sense of crisis that had brought so many into services should be maintained in addressing the housing and homelessness crises, he said. “It shouldn’t take an emergency for people who need homeless services to get services.”
The trust closed the extreme weather facility on Friday, but opened 40 new emergency beds – at locations in Inchicore and the North Circular Road – with a third facility opening this week.
Mr Doyle said there were a number of “very unhelpful” discharges from hospital into homelessness at the height of the storm, as well as releases from prison.
Many of those accommodated were non-nationals – from Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East and usually not entitled to housing or homeless services – while others were thought to be failed asylum seekers no longer entitled to direct provision accommodation.
Others who were “up each morning at 6am” the charity believes were working “cash-in-hand” in Dublin hotels. Many of these had “quietly disappeared” since the snow thawed.
“At least half were homeless because of failings by the health system, the justice system and social services, not failings of the homelessness sector,” said Mr Doyle.
“We [charities and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive] pulled out all the stops during the storm. It was a huge challenge, and we rose to it. We ‘netted’ if you like a big number of people we hadn’t been able to before. That’s good. But there has to be learning now.
“We, all of us – the HSE, the Department of Justice, Social Protection – have to review this calmly, without judgment and learn how can we respond better to the most vulnerable and marginalised.”
Rough sleeper count
He said there may be a need for “more assertive engagement” with people sleeping rough. During the severe weather the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin fell to an all-time low of 14. This compares with 184 during the last official rough sleeper count in November.
Over 260 additional emergency beds were opened across Dublin during the severe weather. Two rough sleepers were sectioned under the 2001 Mental Health Act for their own safety. About five rough sleepers were hospitalised after entering emergency accommodation.
A spokeswoman for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said an “interim review” had been conducted since the snow. “There was unprecedented demand for emergency accommodation, putting a huge strain on services. Every person that looked for shelter was accommodated.”