Homeless man Steven Glynn says he had to sleep in a tent the day he left hospital after undergoing a serious operation.
He was attacked on the street the Friday before Halloween, he says, and had major surgery on his left arm, including having metal plates inserted. He showed me an X-ray of them.
Glynn a tall man with sallow skin and dark hair, was still wearing a sling when I spoke to him and his brother, Ben Glynn, in the Capuchin Day Centre last Thursday.
The Glynn brothers introduce me to their friend, Thomas Dowling.
Dowling says he is living in a 27-bed dorm in St Bricin’s Military Hospital, an army barracks at the back of O’Devaney Gardens. “You have to put your money in your socks and roll up your socks inside your pillow. A lad had €190 robbed on him last night,” he says.
This seems to conflict with what Brendan Kenny, Dublin City Council’s deputy chief executive and head of housing, was quoted earlier this month in the Irish Times as saying.
“There aren’t single rooms for everybody – it’s just not possible to do that at the present time. In some rooms there are two beds, in others there are three, but they are not old-style dormitories,” Kenny was quoted as saying.
The stories told by the Glynn brothers and Dowling, while complimentary of support staff in hostels, raise questions about standards of accommodation being provided to homeless people in Dublin.
There appear to be no regulations governing allocations or the amount of time somebody can spend in one-night-only accommodation. And best practice standards, in terms of sharing, outlined in 1999, are still not being adhered to 18 years on.
Steven Glynn says he was discharged from hospital in early November.
As he tells it, the hospital social worker told him she had got him a bed. However it turned out it was not a bed, but a roll-out mat on the floor of the Merchants Quay Night Café.
“He had just come out of an eight-hour operation, and that’s what they were giving him – Merchants Quay to lie on the floor,” says Ben Glynn.
The brothers said they chose to sleep in a tent that night, instead.
They then presented daily to the Central Placement Service in Parkgate Street, and were eventually placed in a room together, but it is in a night-time-only hostel.
They say the staff are very good to them, but every day they are out on the streets again until the following night.
“I’m still in agony with it,” says Steven Glynn of the injury he got almost three months ago. “I’m spending €130 a month on heat patches from Dealz.”
A spokesperson for Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) said special procedures are in place to ensure that those being discharged from hospital get beds.
“There is a discharge policy in place for persons leaving hospital to ensure priority access to emergency accommodation,” she said.
Glynn says he has been told he has priority, but almost three months later, and still suffering from his injuries, he remains stuck in night-time-only accommodation.
Despite the comments attributed to Kenny about the extinction of old-style dormitories, there are at least two facilities in Dublin, which most would call old-style dormitories.
There’s a 20-bed dormitory in the Civil Defence buildings on Wolfe Tone Quay, and the 27-bed dorm in St Bricin’s Army Barracks at the back of O’Devaney Gardens, where Dowling lives.
(A soldier on the barracks’ gate said permission is needed from the Department of Defence to go inside.)
It’s unclear if there are more. Despite several requests, a spokesperson for DRHE refused to clarify the exact number of dorm beds.
“Since the reconfiguration of services a number of years ago, we have continually worked to phase out large dormitory-style accommodation,” she says. “Yes, they do exist but in only in a few services i.e. Bricin’s and Wolfe Tone Quay.”
She added that Civil Defence hostel at Wolfe Tone Quay is a winter initiative.
Elsewhere, Aoife Mulhall, spokesperson for Dublin Simon Community says it has one four-bed room in its services, and the Francis Doherty, Peter McVerry Trust runs two five-bed rooms.
Crosscare and Depaul say they have no dorm beds in their service.
Ben Glynn says that Bru Aimsir on Thomas Street “Might as well be a dorm sure. There’s only a flimsy partition there with no ceilings and no doors, it is just like a big hundred-bed dorm,” he says.
Focus Ireland and the Salvation Army did not respond to two phone calls and an email each asking about the number of dorm beds in their services.
According to Dublin City Council’s figures, 31 percent of homeless individuals, or around 550 people, are living in night-time-only accommodation, with no access to living space during the day.
Night-time-only beds are supposed to be a short-term measure, according to DRHE. But some, like Steven Glynn, say they have been living in night-time-only accommodation for months.
DRHE didn’t answer a query as to the maximum number of nights someone should spend in night-time-only accommodation.
The spokesperson pointed to the “Putting People First” document, published in 1999, which does not address this question, as it does not refer to night-time-only beds.
Charities had different responses to whether or not there is an adequate number of 24-hour beds (given that many homeless people say that they cannot access them), and whether night-time-only beds are an acceptable standard of accommodation for homeless people.
Focus Ireland and the Salvation Army did not respond to two phone calls and an email looking for information.
Aoife Mulhall, spokesperson for Dublin Simon Community, said that Dublin Regional Homeless Executive were the best people to ask about the bed allocation system.
Depaul’s communications officer, Keelin FitzGerald, said that they try to help anybody who presents to them to get on the list for a 24-hour bed.
Francis Doherty, spokesperson for the Peter McVerry Trust, said that when it launched its strategic plan in October 2016, the trust committed to only opening 24-hour beds, for the next four years.
“The Peter McVerry Trust believes more STA (24-hour) accommodation is required and have informed other stakeholders that the number of one-night-only (ONO) beds should be reviewed, with a view to converting many of these to STA beds,” he said.
He noted that there are currently too many one-night-only beds, but that such beds do have a place in emergency homeless responses.
The DRHE spokesperson also pointed to the “Putting People First” document in response to a query about whether there are regulations that govern security issues such as bullying or drug dealing in hostels.
But the document doesn’t answer this, either.
Privacy and Security
The majority of homeless individuals are not accommodated in dorms, but in shared rooms of two or three people, according to different charities.
This still affords little privacy. Two of the large hostels in the city, Bru Aimsir and Little Britain Street, have no doors on those shared rooms.
Homeless man Christopher Brown says that the open-door system allows others to “go from room to room dipping pockets”.
Anthony Flynn of Inner City Helping Homeless says people should be placed in rooms with others who are similar to themselves.
He would like to see a return to streaming people into “wet hostels and dry hostels”, he says, so that those who are active drug users would be apart from those who are drug or alcohol-free.
Inner City Helping Homeless carry out a survey of rough sleepers every night now, says Flynn, and most say they don’t want to go into hostels as they don’t want to be around drug use and/or believe that hostels are unsafe.
“The ones on the streets now are the ones who are not using,” says Flynn.
Shared rooms in the one-night-only system are difficult because you are not with the same people every night, but are sharing with different strangers each night.
And such rooms are contrary to best practice guidelines, even as set out 18 years ago, in the “Putting People First” document.
In 1999, the Homeless Initiative under Dublin Corporation and the Eastern Health Board, called for services to monitor the percentage of “enforced sharing”.
It outlines what that the quality standard should be. “Individual bedrooms are available for each person/family, bedrooms are lockable,” it says.
The standards laid down by Dublin Region Homeless Executive are currently being reviewed, and it plans to publish its National Quality Standards Framework in 2017, according to a spokesperson for the DRHE.
The charities that work with homeless people said that they have their own standards in place.
“All our emergency services are provided on a low threshold basis with a harm reduction model and a full suite of services for clients,” says Mulhall of Simon Community.
She outlined details of care plans, assessments, and support to achieve goals, as well as health-and-safety assessments and reviews, and meals provided.
Mulhall says that they have nine one-night-only beds and those clients are welcome to stay in the hostel and have meals there the following day.
Keelin FitzGerald of Depaul says: “We provide the highest standards of care, safety and security across all of our services, in line with HSE and DCC regulations and our own policies and procedures.”
“We employ highly trained keyworkers who deliver an assertive engagement approach to address complex needs of those who use our services, with support plans being developed in conjunction with service users to ensure each person gains access to the supports that suit their needs,” she said.
The above applies to all those in 24-hour beds, and Depaul supports those who are in one-night-only beds to access the 24-hour beds, she said.
Francis Doherty says the Peter McVerry Trust’s services operate to the highest obtainable standards. “All staff must have a level 8-qualification (honours degree level),” he says
“This underlines our commitment to ensuring those working with our participants have the skills and capacity to help those participants achieve positive outcomes.”
He said that they invest more than statutory requirements or expectations in order to set high service delivery standards.
Crosscare offered to take us on a tour of their services and demonstrate all policies and procedures on site.
Who Regulates the Hostels?
There has been a long-running debate around who should be responsible for monitoring homeless services.
In October last year, Daithí Downey of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive told councillors that the council had asked the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) if it would oversee homeless services. “We have written on a number of occasions to make that position clear,” he said.
But HIQA hasn’t agreed to take on that role, and, Downey said in the meeting, there is a broader debate about regulations and homeless services that needs to be dealt with at a national level. So far, though, that debate hasn’t happened.
Charities give different answers to who monitors their homeless services.
Fitzgerald of Depaul says that it is monitored by Dublin City Council, Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and the HSE, as well as by its own funders.
Francis Doherty says the Peter McVerry Trust get external independent auditors to conduct assessments of their service provision. “HIQA should be responsible, and we have stated this publicly,” he says.
The spokesperson for Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said that Dublin City Council’s facility management team regularly inspect their emergency accommodation properties, to ensure compliance with building standards.
“Voluntary organisations who are state-funded (and who operate under a service level agreement) to provide emergency accommodation also have facility management in place to ensure compliance with standards,” she said.