‘Unprecedented’ number of families seek emergency accommodation

Number of homeless presenting at Garda stations expected to rise during papal visit

Margaret Cash with her children Johnny, Thomas, Michael, Andy, Jim and Miley outside the council offices in Tallaght. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Margaret Cash with her children Johnny, Thomas, Michael, Andy, Jim and Miley outside the council offices in Tallaght. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The country reacted with shock on Thursday at the image of homeless children sleeping on the plastic seats of a Garda station in west Dublin, but there was nothing new about it.

Anthony Flynn, chief executive of the Inner City Helping Homeless group, said it was becoming the norm. He said 48 families spent the night in Garda stations last month, 47 the month before that.

“We’re just seeing this happen so often now that it has become normalised,” he told The Irish Times.

“This situation has been going on month on month where there’s an increase in people that are presenting to homeless services who then end up in Garda stations because services just haven’t got the means to accommodate everybody.”

On Thursday morning, images surfaced on social media of homeless mother Margaret Cash (28) and six of her seven children sleeping in Tallaght Garda station, unable to secure suitable emergency accommodation for the night.

Ms Cash said it was the second time her family had been forced to present as homeless at the Garda station over the past year.

Mr Flynn said homeless families presenting at Garda stations had become prevalent mostly over the last year or so and expected the figure to rise later this month during the papal visit.

“This wouldn’t have been heard of two or three years ago,” he said. “The demographic of people entering homeless services has totally turned upside down.

“We were feeding rough sleepers, people with substance abuse in Garda stations two years ago, now we’re feeding women and children in Garda stations. This is a complete upheaval compared to what we’re used to.”

Moral outrage

Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) spoke on Thursday about “moral outrage”. She said “we’re all morally outraged” by the images but “it’s not the norm and it shouldn’t be the norm”.

“We should never accept it as the norm,” she said.

The DRHE said 10 families, an “unprecedented number”, presented out of hours seeking emergency accommodation on Wednesday night. Of those 10, five were placed in emergency accommodation, two returned to their original region (outside Dublin), one refused the offer of emergency accommodation and two did not seek further assistance.

In correspondence obtained by The Irish Times, Focus Ireland chief executive Pat Dennigan told Minister for Children Katherine Zappone that in the first three weeks of April, 32 families were told to present to Garda stations, as there was no emergency accommodation beds available.

On April 24th, several families had to sleep in Pearse Street Garda station, the letter said.

Roughan Mac Namara, advocacy manager with Focus Ireland, said directing homeless families to Garda stations was “the only thing available” when no emergency accommodation was available.

“It is not acceptable and we are not happy to do that but it is the only thing available in certain situations.”

Mr Mac Namara said Wednesday night was “the worst it has been in a good while” in terms of families presenting to Garda stations.

“The number fluctuates, obviously there’s been additional beds put in place at different times. It will continue to fluctuate when there’s high pressure on hotel rooms due to tourist seasons,” he said.

“Ultimately it is unacceptable the Government is leaving families in a situation where they can be left to fend for themselves for emergency accommodation.”