Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010

Vol. 701 No. 4

Services for the Homeless.

I am delighted to welcome the Minister of State to the House. The closure of the homeless shelter in Cedar House, Marlborough Place, Dublin 1 was sudden and unilateral. It came without consultation with the staff or any notice to the clientele, and I understand it is being implemented next month. As of yet, the representatives of the workers in the shelter have not been able to have any consultations or negotiations. The first meeting took place today. That is not the way to conduct business, especially when it is being conducted in regard to the most vulnerable people in our society.

The homeless centre in Cedar House has approximately 50 residential occupants per night and approximately 40 to 50 who get day care service provided by doctors and nurses, which is essential. It also has a regular supply, so to speak, of people who come along and get sleeping bags on a 24 hour basis from the hostel. The hostel provides a very valuable service as a night shelter for people coming from different walks of life who need that type of facility.

As I said, there has been no debate on this decision, apart from what has taken place behind closed doors. The Government strategy on homelessness, The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008 to 2013, is just a work of fiction. There is a commitment in that strategy to end long-term homelessness by this year.

It is outrageous to make such a commitment without providing facilities for it.

The provision of social housing has never been so bad. Every week dozens attend my constituency clinics who cannot get social housing because the local authority is not building new units, conducting maintenance on vacant units or extending existing units to cater for larger families or a disability. Up to 60,000 people are in need of social housing while there is a declaration in the homelessness strategy that long-term homelessness will be ended by this year. As we well know, when it comes to social housing provision, it is the homeless who are at the bottom of the pile, the last to be dealt with and given a permanent home. There is no sense in the Minister telling us this will change. The last thing we need is the closing down of one of the two shelters on Dublin's north side, putting the people in question on the street, while expecting the already inadequate services and facilities to be able to provide for them.

The 45 people employed at Cedar House and their representatives were treated disgracefully. They were not informed until last week about this decision made before Christmas and behind closed doors. They were informed at the same time as the clientele in the hostel were.

That is scandalous.

It is scandalous. This goes against all trade union agreements that allow for forewarning and an opportunity for negotiations to take place. The decision was taken, the axe has fallen and any discussions that will take place will be post factum. There is little likelihood of them being successful in keeping the shelter open.

I am not happy such an event should occur in my constituency. Cedar House is located in the heart of Dublin city. There are a multitude of problems there with people from the young to the elderly to those with various disabilities who, for a variety of reasons, are homeless and sleeping rough. A decision has been made to close a facility which did a fantastic job under the aegis of the Salvation Army. The Minister of State should reverse the decision until such time as alternative accommodation can be provided for the people affected and proper negotiations have been held with the employees and their trade union representatives.

Under housing legislation, decisions regarding the facilities and arrangements necessary to accommodate homeless persons are matters for individual housing authorities to consider at local level. However, given the inaccurate and unhelpful public comments made by Deputy Costello about the Cedar House homeless shelter, I am happy to set the record straight, particularly to allay any concerns unnecessarily created among homeless people or those who look after them.

There is no question of the sudden closure of Cedar House. The Cedar House shelter is being reviewed, in conjunction with the Salvation Army, as part of the reconfiguration of all homeless services in Dublin which the Homeless Agency is overseeing. This reconfiguration is essential because we must move away from an outdated emergency hostel-based approach in which people remain for long periods, damaging their self esteem and reducing their prospects of progressing to full independent living. We must change from reacting to homelessness to tackling it in a more planned and strategic way and providing long-term solutions rather than just managing homelessness.

This more progressive approach is at the heart of the Government's homeless strategy, The Way Home, which I launched in August 2008. A core objective of the strategy is to eliminate long-term occupation of emergency or transitional homeless facilities and enable households to progress to independent living in mainstream housing. A new scheme of supports to assist people with the transition to independent living has been launched. Several measures are being vigorously pursued to source accommodation for that purpose. I have given special priority to safeguarding the level of funding for homelessness which reached more than €62 million in 2009, an increase of 5% in nominal terms and even more given the deflationary environment. This higher level of funding is being maintained in 2010, notwithstanding retrenchment in State funding.

The Homeless Agency and the Dublin local authorities have a clear rationale for changing the way homeless and housing support services are delivered through the implementation of an agreed plan to end long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough. In April 2009, they adopted the pathway to home model of homeless and housing support provision. This new model of service delivery will mean a reduction in the amount of temporary accommodation because national and local government policy is to provide for a significant increase in suitable long-term tenancies.

However, as part of the new model, 24-hour supported temporary accommodation will be put in place as distinct from the current hostel one night stay approach. A comprehensive programme of consultation was initiated in 2009 with the various homeless service providers and an intensive series of meetings with individual providers is continuing. Needless to say, the needs of homeless people are central to this process.

There is no question of any residents of Cedar House being left without shelter. I am appalled at any suggestion that people might be left on the streets as a result of any changes. On the contrary, we are determined to break the cycle of homelessness. Further action will be pursued to end any need for rough sleeping, continuing the progress that has already seen street homeless numbers in Dublin reduce from 185 in 2005 to 60 in November 2009. This will build on the excellent work done during the recent severe weather which, with the co-operation of the various bodies and commitment of people on the ground, helped to protect vulnerable people from the elements. Ireland was unique that no death was recorded in the country due to the inclement weather when there were hundreds across Europe and 30 in the UK.

It is incumbent on all of us, especially public representatives, to marshal all the facts before making public statements on issues. This is all the more important when such statements can have the effect of creating unnecessary alarm and concern among a vulnerable group in society such as the homeless. My Department, the Homeless Agency and Dublin City Council are always available to inform Deputy Costello of the factual position on matters of interest.

I take it then that Cedar House will not close at the end of March and its clientele will continue to use it.

The first people Deputy Costello spoke about were not the homeless but the employees and their positions. There are procedures for that matter.