Mendicity is Dublin's oldest working charity and has offered services to our most marginalised neighbours since 1818. We offered continuous, sit-in services throughout Covid, seven days a week and late into the winter evenings. Our priority group are those sleeping outside and those accessing hostel accommodation where there are no supports. In 1852, the Mendicity Institution opened the first public baths in Dublin and from April 2020 and throughout the pandemic the Mendicity Institution offered the only shower in the city to those sleeping outside when we were all told to stay at home and wash our hands. These are impossible to do together for too many. During this short period in history, we said a final goodbye to nine people who used our service, arranging more than our fair share of funerals. We are sure there were others for whom we did not have the opportunity to mark their passing as there is no system in place to share such information. If death is a part of life then people who are homeless are consistently being denied the opportunity to grieve with dignity.
This submission intends to address some of the 17 recommendations of the April 2021 interim report on homelessness. It addresses those that speak to our expertise, focusing on those accessing private emergency accommodation and their experience of it. As referred to in recommendation 4, we rarely have an opportunity to work towards a housing assistance payment and a tenancy on the open market because when we asked we were told that of 105 homeless people at Mendicity, all accessing private emergency accommodation and none of whom are on a housing list with a local authority, 92% were ineligible. There is no housing for them, which is a stumble at the first step. Without access to a social housing waiting list we cannot look to the housing assistance payment as an exit.
The 200 or so individuals who access Mendicity every week depend largely on private emergency accommodation where the national quality standards do not apply. This is mentioned in recommendation 11. Although many regulatory standards exist none are applied, including those of HIQA, as referred to in recommendation 5, the Charities Regulatory Authority, the Health and Safety Authority, the Food Safety Authority, the Private Security Authority, the National Vetting Bureau or CORU. With regard to recommendation 15, security at emergency accommodation is not delivered by firms licensed by the Private Security Authority.
There is an absence of information in the public domain about the ownership and management of accommodation paid for by the DRHE and delivered by private individuals. This creates a gap for people who stay there and those who support them, especially when things go wrong or there is a complaint. We hear complaints daily against hostel staff or other residents involving behaviour that is criminal in nature and there is no independent arbitration process. This lack of a regulatory framework is at odds with best practice, good governance and common sense.
Between April 2021 and December 2021 there was no reduction in the use of private emergency accommodation, referred to in recommendation 13. This represents 56% of the accommodation provided in the Dublin region. Where a clear majority of accommodation is delivered for profit, with no regulatory oversight and where there are no on-site supports for people at their most vulnerable, they are there for longer and at a higher cost, not only to them. Those who use our services are at its heart and we rarely make changes without their consultation. We want and need to ensure the best use of our resources.
In looking at the 2021 recommendations, we opened the conversation to people in Mendicity and our findings are stark. We carried out a snapshot survey on 30 and 31 January and interviewed 96 individuals, comprising 93 men and three women, all single-person households. Based on these findings we intend to revisit this topic in more detail, and we will share this with the committee in due course. A total of 67% of the 96 people are between the ages of 36 and 45, 5% are under 25 and 3% are over 55. A total of 35 of them are Irish and 61 are from other EEA countries. A total of 78 of them have been homeless for two years or more. Only three of the 96 people have the support of a regular key worker. Only three of them are staying in supported temporary accommodation, 21 are sleeping outside but had previously stayed in private emergency accommodation and 72 currently in private emergency accommodation with no on-site supports.
The DRHE annual report of 2020 tells us that all residents in private emergency accommodation have received a copy of revised Guidelines for Service Users in Emergency Accommodation. None of the 96 had a copy of these guidelines and 88 of the 96 we asked said that no house rules had been explained to them. This is critical as we see regular exclusions of people for breaches of house rules.
We asked if they felt safe in their hostel and asked if they had been the victims of crime. We asked if they had been robbed or assaulted while in their hostel. When it came to a safety rating, 85 rated their safety at three or less out of ten. When it came to crime, 90 of the 96 had personally been the victim of crime, being either robbed or assaulted while in their hostel.
From our experience, there are limited exits from homelessness unless a local authority accepts an application for social housing. It is necessary to establish a local connection where one is applying. Without an application, a homeless person cannot access a range of housing supports such as supported accommodation or a housing assistance payment. This is illustrated well by Aidan who spent periods of time in foster care and residential care as a minor and was at times hospitalised. He has lived, at some point or another, in almost every county in Ireland. He is currently in Dublin. He is working and is staying in a tent. He has spent time in private emergency accommodation, sharing a room with three others, but drug use and violence make him feel safer outside. Rory, another resident in private emergency hostels, speaks candidly about drug use. He admits that he had drugs and drug paraphernalia in his room and when they were found he was restrained by staff, while being choked by one of their colleagues.
I will close with a few recommendations, not more than 17. To move forward, it is critical to review the social housing application process and remove existing barriers for people who are homeless. We must allow for intercounty transfer and improved information sharing between local authorities. We also must end our dependence on private emergency accommodation, where there is no support.