herald

Friday 19 October 2018

Fears of 'avalanche of homelessness' as gardai say they can't be solution

Margaret Cash and her children had to spend Wednesday night in Tallaght Garda Station
Margaret Cash and her children had to spend Wednesday night in Tallaght Garda Station

Campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has warned "an avalanche of homelessness" may be coming down the road.

He said his reaction when he saw the photos of children sleeping in a garda station this week was one of shock, but he wasn't surprised.

Margaret Cash and her children Johnny (11), Tommy (10), Miley (7), Jim (4), Rocky (2) and Andy (1) were forced to spend Wednesday night at Tallaght Garda Station.

Ms Cash, originally from Tallaght and on a council waiting list for housing, told how she spent all night crying.

"The fact is that families sleeping in garda stations is a relatively frequent event these days," Fr McVerry said.

Outrage

"The difference between this case and other families is that there were photographs of children sleeping on hard seats in a garda station and those photographs went viral on social media. That's caused the outrage.

"But actually this situation has been going on now for some months. And very many nights of the week there are some families forced to spend the night in a garda station."

Margaret Cash's children asleep in Tallaght Garda Station on Wednesday night
Margaret Cash's children asleep in Tallaght Garda Station on Wednesday night

His comments came as the Garda Representative Association (GRA) warned gardai cannot be part of the solution to the housing crisis.

The GRA said it was "horrified" at the picture that emerged from Tallaght Garda Station, where Ms Cash and six of her children had to spend the night sleeping on hard chairs.

"The GRA have every sympathy for this family who felt they had to go to this garda station for shelter due to their housing situation," a spokesman said.

"We would particularly like to commend the gardai present in Tallaght for their caring actions in such circumstances - a task that they are neither equipped nor trained to deal with.

"Regardless, a garda station is wholly unsuitable accommodation for any family in this terrible predicament, as a public area in an operational station is clearly an inappropriate space to accommodate young children and families.

"Frontline gardai empathise with the homeless and see the horror it wreaks every day in full technicolour.

"However, gardai cannot be part of the solution to the housing crisis - in the same way that health professionals in A&E departments in hospitals could not be.

Earlier Fr McVerry, speaking on RTE Radio One's Today With Miriam, said the majority of people and families presenting as homeless were coming from the private rental sector.

"They are being evicted from the private rental sector either because the rents are gone to a level which they are no longer able to afford, or the landlord says they are selling the house, or the landlord says they want to do major renovations," he said.

Fr Peter McVerry
Fr Peter McVerry

Fr McVerry said "it should be illegal to evict people into homelessness".

"Many of the families, if not all of the families, becoming homeless are in a desperate situation. They don't want to be in this situation. It's causing them enormous distress," he said.

He added that the problem just keeps getting worse.

"We helped one family not so long ago to find accommodation. It took us 100 phone calls, ringing around to hotels and bed and breakfasts before we could find one that had a room available and was willing to let this homeless family stay in it for one night," he said.

"And then they would have to repeat the process again the next day."

Speaking of reports of families living in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region being forced outside the capital during the papal visit, he said it's not the Pope's fault.

"It's the Government's fault. They are responsible for dealing with this crisis," he said.

"I think we could have a catastrophe coming down the road. There are 43,000 mortgages in arrears of more than two years, and the European Central Bank is putting pressure on the Irish banks to get those off their books.

"Many of those over the next two or three years are going to be repossessed or sold to vulture funds."

In addition, he pointed out in relation to Brexit, a significant number of employees could potentially relocate to Dublin.

There are also an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 people living illegally in the UK.

"Some of them could end up coming to Ireland and accommodation would have to be found for them," he said.

"It is absolutely beyond crisis at this stage."

Fr McVerry said he feared for what the situation was going to be like this time next year or in two years' time.

Crisis

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said the Government must act now and declare a national emergency as an unprecedented number of families seek emergency accommodation.

It said the upcoming papal visit would bring the crisis to the fore and show how the use of hotels to meet the needs of homeless families was entirely inappropriate.

"It is utterly unacceptable that any child should have to spend a night sleeping in a car or a garda station," SVP national president Kieran Stafford said.

"Childhood is short, and at this time of year, children should be enjoying their summer holidays with friends and family.

"No child should have to worry about where they are going to sleep at night.

"We first heard reports of children sleeping in garda stations in May 2017 and nothing has changed 14 months later.

"It is clear that the current policy has failed."

Meanwhile, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) said it has a contingency plan in place for the papal visit.

In a statement to the Herald it said it "closely monitors the demand for emergency accommodation and have contingency plans in place that provide additional bed capacity when required".

"Such plans were successfully activated during Storm Ophelia, Emma etc and more recently during the concerts in the Phoenix Park. Plans such as these will be activated as and when required during the papal visit," it added.

"The DRHE actively pursues all accommodation options, which may include providing accommodation outside the Dublin region, to ensure that families are provided with emergency accommodation when needed.

"Furthermore, we have been working closely with private emergency accommodation providers and have pre-booked rooms/facilities for the weekend of the papal visit."

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