At the Capuchin Day Centre near Smithfield at 8am on Thursday morning, staff are busy serving up breakfast to around 40 homeless people.
Homeless man David Gallagher has red hair and looks younger than his 32 years. He sips on a coffee, and says that for months he has been trying to get a long-term hostel bed that he could use 24-hours a day.
While waiting, he says he has ended up sleeping rough sometimes, because the alternative is ringing the council each day to secure a bed for the night.
He recently lost his phone, which makes this hard. You are often told when you do get through that you have to ring back again later, he says.
“You dread every day ringing the phone ‘cause you don’t know where they’ll put you. If they don’t have beds they just hand you a sleeping bag,” he says. “Twenty-four-hour beds are rare. They’re like gold dust – I certainly can’t get one.”
But somehow, like magic, it seems as if Dublin City Council has offered this gold dust to the residents of Apollo House.
A spokesperson from the Peter McVerry Trust said there was a special deal offered to those in Apollo House, which allowed them to by-pass the months-long waiting list.
A spokesperson from Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, however, strenuously denied that the Apollo House residents got a special deal and jumped the queue. “Absolutely, definitely not,” she said.
What does Gallagher think about Apollo House residents being offered long-term, 24-hour beds so quickly, when he’s been waiting for one for so long?
“It’s annoying but what can you do about it?” he says. “They have all the power.”
Who has all the power?
“The council,” he says.
“Is the government not ashamed? Are they not embarrassed when tourists come over here and there are so many people sleeping on the streets?” he asks.
Dublin’s Two-Tier Homeless System
Dublin City Council say that they provide around 1,800 individual homeless beds and that 31 percent of those are part of a system called Emergency Temporary Accommodation.
This accommodation is open at night only. It involves sharing rooms with up to four people per night, and provides little in the way of support.
At least 200 people are in the one-night only system, according to Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, which means they have to ring the council’s free-phone number every day to get a bed. Each night they are sent to a different bed and often to a different hostel.
Dublin City Council says there is no shortage of beds now and that some have been vacant over the Christmas period, but Brother Kevin Crowley says he is still seeing people who are being told there are no beds, when they ring phone line.
“We are still seeing people who can’t get anything, we had a guy in here this morning who spent last night walking the streets,” says Crowley.
Homeless people report that phoning in every day is difficult for all sorts of reasons: they might not have a phone, and some pay-phones don’t allow calls to free-phone numbers; or maybe they don’t speak English very well.
Some people in Temporary Accommodation have “rolling beds”, which means they can use the same bed each night for a week.
Homeless man Christopher Browne can’t understand why all the beds in the Temporary Emergency Accommodation system cannot be assigned as rolling beds.
Others have also said that in the past. Last summer, three squatters who were in the Capuchin Centre said that the night-by-night system was one of the main reasons why they avoid hostels.
Supported Temporary Accommodation (STA) is a separate system, which usually provides six-month placements with 24-hour access and support from staff. These are the “gold dust” beds.
In some of these hostels, residents have their own rooms, but usually they are shared with up to four people.
There is a waiting list for the 24-hour beds, and a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that the list is currently “at least two months plus”.
Moving from Tier One to Tier Two
Like Gallagher, most homeless people must use the night-by-night system (ETA) for months while on the waiting list for a more stable, 24-hour, six-month bed (STA).
But it appears that the residents of Apollo House have been allowed to skip that requirement, jump the queue, and get right into six-month beds.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson denied that they were given a special deal. So how did everyone in Apollo House get offered the 24-hour beds for which there is a waiting list?
“There is a list, and people cannot jump the list. No, I mean how would that be fair or transparent for people who go into emergency accommodation, for someone else to get in STA before they do?” she said.
But Nyle Lennon of the Peter McVerry Trust said there was a special deal offered to those in Apollo House, which allowed them to by-pass the waiting list.
Lennon said the Trust has taken 54 people from Apollo House and all of them got 24-hour beds.
Nine of them got beds in the new hostel at Ellis Quay, which is run by the Peter McVerry Trust. Lennon said that those placements are all 24-hour beds.
In the case of all the others, the Peter McVerry Trust and other charities (who he declined to name) converted existing “one-night-only” beds into 24-hour supported beds.
Was this fair to the people who were next in line on the waiting list for the 24-hour beds? In particular, in relation to Ellis Quay, as those were existing 24-hour beds, which should have been assigned to the people who were next on the list?
Lennon said that the positive aspect is that there are now additional 24-hour beds in the system.
Rosi Leonard of Home Sweet Home, the group behind the Apollo House occupation, said they had understood that the beds were being “created” especially for the people in Apollo House.
She says it is “completely ridiculous” that Apollo House residents are being offered 24-hour beds, while other homeless people are offered the floor of Merchants Quay café.
“Twenty-four-hour bed access is almost unheard of,” says Leonard. “What is common is about a six-hour sleep on a mat in Merchants Quay floor.”
Leonard says their entire campaign is aimed at highlighting the need for minimum standards in the provision of homeless accommodation.
She says the council’s ability to “create” 40 new 24-hour supported beds shows it can be done and that it should now be done for all homeless people.
“With the click of a button they removed all the bureaucratic nonsense that meant that you had to wait three months for a six-month bed.”
Stuck in the Night-by-Night System
Many homeless people living in the city are not even eligible to access the 24-hour bed system.
Usually, these are people who were not living in Dublin for two years before they became homeless, non-EU citizens or EU citizens who cannot prove they are habitually resident in Ireland.
We have asked Dublin City Council how many of these homeless people there are, but they say they don’t report on that number.
Crosscare say about a quarter of those accessing their night-by-night beds are not eligible for housing.
If you are not eligible for housing in the Dublin area you will not even make it onto the list for accessing those sought after 24-hour beds.
Ram Bhowan is a tall man who wears a woolly hat and scarf indoors. He says he has been homeless in Dublin for ten years. “For a long-term placement you have to have papers,” he says.
He finds the free phone very annoying, but is very grateful, he says, for the support he receives in the Capuchin Centre and Merchants Quay.
Eugene Alban is a big friendly middle-aged man from Romania with a silver beard. Since losing his last home, which was private rented accommodation, Alban has been using the free phone system.
He says he often has to translate for others from Romania, who don’t speak enough English to access services.
“If people don’t speak English, it’s very difficult to ring the free phone,” he says. “I call to translate for other Romanians, but sometimes they won’t allow that.”
“Imagine if there was no Capuchin Centre. Everyone would be on the street,” he says.
Is Privacy a Right?
In both systems of homeless accommodation, people have to share rooms with up to four other adults, although some of the 24-hour placements do have single rooms.
Every homeless person I spoke to for this article complained about sharing rooms. Bhowan, for example, objects to sharing rooms with heroin users.
“The rooms are too mixed,” he says. “With different people sharing rooms it’s a mess … one might be injecting drugs while another only smokes dope.”
Christopher Brown says that as he is a former heroin user who is now clean, he hates being put into rooms with people who are using heroin.
He says he has been homeless for the last few weeks, following a relationship break-down. He is using the night-by-night system through the free phone.
Brown says he was homeless previously, and that time he waited 15 weeks to get a 24-hour bed.
“If there are beds, then why are people still being sent to Merchants Quay, to sleep on the floor, when they ring the free phone?” he said, on Thursday.
The sleeping mats on the floor in Merchants Quay are just two inches apart, says Brown. “And then in some hostels the rooms have no doors,” he says.
Brown says the Bru Aimsir hostel on Thomas Street has no doors. “It’s not a room. There are no doors and no ceiling. It’s like a warehouse,” he says.
Crosscare, who run the hostel, say it’s true that the hostel has no doors on bedrooms due to fire-safety regulations, that it is in fact a converted warehouse.
Brown says he can’t sleep in Bru Aimsir due to people “wandering around it all night making noise and going in and out of rooms”.
“Its fine if you are off your head on drugs” he says. “Then you would sleep anywhere, but it’s a nightmare if you are clean.”