As Storm Desmond battered the country earlier this month, one young family left their emergency accommodation at short notice and headed out into the heavy rain.
Two weeks ago, Catherine Reddington found herself without electricity in the emergency accommodation that Dublin City Council had arranged for her and her family at St Catherine’s Gate, on Parnell Road in Crumlin – a block of apartments that hosts 29 homeless families.
She went down to the management office on the ground floor to ask for it to be reconnected. She says she owed just 40 cents on her electricity bill.
As she tells it, however, the conversation didn’t go too well. It ended with her calling the local Garda station, and leaving the apartment block.
In the driving rain, she and her children – who are two and five – and her partner, Raymond Farrell, made their way by foot to her mother’s home.
Amanda Reddington said she was shocked to see her daughter show up in the torrential downpour, wearing no coat or socks, with her two toddlers, aged two and five. “The eldest had soiled himself, because he was sick,” she says.
Believing that if they lost their place at St Catherine’s Gate, his family would be homeless, Farrell went back with his son and locked himself in what had been their apartment. He stayed there for the weekend with no electricity or gas.
The Irish Housing Network – an amalgamation of 13 community and homeless-outreach groups – soon arrived to support his stand. It organised a number of small protests outside the apartments. By Wednesday, the utilities had been turned back on.
Farrell continued to occupy the apartment and activists have been bringing him and his son food. But after a week and a half in the apartment, he plans to leave today.
“He wants to spend Christmas with his family,” says Amanda Reddington.
While Farrell was locked in the apartment, Dublin city councillor Pat Dunne, of the United Left, put forward a motion at the council’s south-central area meeting last Wednesday, calling for council management to immediately take action on the situation.
It was ruled out of order when specific details were included, but the motion passed once the address was taken out. Since then, Dublin City Council management has been working with Catherine Reddington and her family.
At first, she was offered two unconnected rooms in the Viking Lodge Hotel on Francis Street. But she declined, as she didn’t want to split up her family.
After further discussion, she was offered a room she says had no windows and only two beds on the South Circular Road. She also declined this offer, because she says it was too small. The bathroom and other utilities were separate too.
But this was offered again with an extra bed in the room and Reddington’s mother, Amanda, says this time the offer was accepted. “Dublin City Council’s hands are tied,” she says.
Reddington isn’t too pleased with the downgrade, particularly so close to Christmas. The apartment at St Catherine’s Gate was much bigger and had all the facilities that the family needed inside.
Dublin City Council’s South Central Area Manager Bruce Phillips said he could not comment on this case. But he acknowledged that the council only has authority where it has statutory powers, for example regarding environmental health issues.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive could not be reached.
Terms and Conditions Apply
“People are queuing to get into St Catherine’s Gate,” says Alan Driscoll of the Irish Housing Network.
When Catherine Reddington first moved into the apartment five months ago, she couldn’t believe her luck. It was spacious, comfortable and had all the conveniences that a hotel lacked. But soon her view of the situation began to change.
Like some Dublin hotels providing emergency accommodation, this apartment complex had a set of rules for residents. These included an 11pm curfew and a ban on visitors. Residents also were not allowed to socialise with each other.
Tamara Kearns lived in the complex for nine months between October 2013 and July 2014 with her two children, aged six and one at the time. “The place is just unbelievable,” she says.
One of her children often had night terrors, she says, and she herself has only recently fully come out of the depression that she fell into.
Tired of the situation, she went on the Late Late Show to raise the issue and have her voice heard.
Angel Dignam, who also lived in the complex for a year, contacted the Irish Housing Network to share a similar experience.
Councillor Pat Dunne, who has been helping the Reddington family in talks with council management, has said that this is the third time in 18 months that residents of the apartment complex have come to him with similar issues.
We approached a member of St Catherine’s Gate management yesterday afternoon to hear his side of the story, but he declined to comment on this specific case or to answer more general questions about the complex.
Fighting for Rights
This isn’t just about one apartment block.
As the council struggles to find enough accommodation for a growing number of homeless people, residents’ rights have eroded and housing standards have slipped, says Mike Allen, director of advocacy for Focus Ireland.
Residents of emergency accommodation should have the same rights as other tenants, says councillor Pat Dunne. But most people in emergency accommodation only have a right to 24-hour residency, and despite living in there for up to two years at a time, don’t have any tenants’ rights.
The biggest issue is around visitation, he says. He has come across a case where a man wasn’t allowed visits from his children once they reached 18 years of age.
“They remain without any rights whatsoever,” he says. “Why should homeless people be any different to anyone else?”
Dunne would like to see house rules allow for basic rights for residents, a proposal he says senior city council officials are currently looking at.
Overall, Focus Ireland’s Mike Allen says, there needs to be a clearer system where people can complain to the council about conditions without losing their accommodation. “No matter what the case, both sides are better protected if a process is in place,” he says.