200 emergency beds in drive to save homeless from big freeze
Nearly 200 homeless people were put up in emergency accommodation last night across Dublin and Kildare in what a charity described as its biggest single mobilisation.
With temperatures expected to plummet to -5C overnight, the number of beds in the south inner city and Kildare was increased to deal with the unprecedented demand.
One unit, funded by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) and run by the Peter McVerry Trust, was set up in St Catherine's Sports Hall, on Marrowbone Lane, on Monday.
Since then, it has helped scores of homeless, half of whom had never presented to services before.
"We had 70 beds here on Monday and accommodated 45 men, then on Tuesday we had 90 beds and accommodated 81. But on Wednesday we had 110 beds and 106 people came in," said Pat Doyle, the trust's chief executive.
The services were further extended yesterday, with the trust announcing that it would be facilitating 173 beds, including 120 in the sports hall.
Fifty-three have been introduced in other existing trust services across Dublin and Kildare.
The charity reported that around 30 rough sleepers had declined emergency accommodation in Dublin and Kildare, despite the treacherous conditions.
Former lord mayor Christy Burke said the Inner City Helping Homeless group encountered three rough sleepers on Wednesday night who did not want to avail of emergency accommodation.
A woman who was a victim of domestic violence also needed shelter, said Mr Burke.
"In the last two hours we met two women - one suffered domestic violence last night and she had black eyes, her entire face was swollen," he said.
"As soon as we contacted the freephone number we secured her a place until next Monday. She had to get stitches, she was in a bad way."
The Independent councillor added that another woman needed help securing accommodation, and praised the work being done by the Peter McVerry Trust and other charities.
"I've been to the centre and spoken to the staff and the residents there. They all look comfortable, they're being looked after and it's being very well co-ordinated," he said.
All around the sports hall, men were being given breakfast at designated tables. Unlike many hostels and B&B accommodation, the homeless men can stay in St Catherine's during the day as Storm Emma approaches.
"People are free to go if they want to, but we're encouraging them to stay because the weather is so bad," said Mr Doyle.
Sixteen staff will stay in the centre as Storm Emma hits, and they will help ensure the safety and comfort of the men seeking shelter.
"It only took us six hours to set up the shelter. It's a big hall and it was quite cold, so we brought in marquees and have the beds in them," said Mr Doyle.
"It makes it easier to heat and gives a bit more privacy and dignity to our clients.
"We have blow heaters running, and as well as their breakfasts the men will get a lunch of soup and sandwiches and a hot dinner too. Yesterday it was cottage pie or chicken casserole."
The meals are made by trust caterers and taken to the shelter before being distributed.
As well as food and a bed for the night, homeless people are supplied with "dignity packs" of toiletries and hygiene products, as well as fresh clothing, sleeping bags and shower facilities.
"We have other services on offer too," said Mr Doyle. "It's not just food and shelter. We have a nurse's station run by a not-for-profit group called Safety Net which is funded by the HSE and looks after homeless people.
"So far we've had four ambulances to the centre after long-term deteriorating medical conditions from being homeless manifested themselves in the clients.
"One worrying thing we have noticed is that many of the people here now have never availed of homeless services before because they've been living in squats and things.
"We will now try and keep them in the system. We have different services we can direct them to, we don't just want them to drift off into obscurity once this centre closes.
"There's a review next Monday to see what will happen to the centre, but for the moment during this weather it's vital for keeping people off the streets.
"There are no ladies' beds here, but we have 20 emergency ladies' beds in Ellis Quay and 10 more in Finglas."