Moving Homeless Families from Hotels to "Hubs": Semantics or Progress?

How does Fine Gael Minister for Housing Simon Coveney plan to follow through on his commitment that the use of hotels to shelter homeless families would end by 1 July this year?

In large part by leasing hotels, converting them for use by homeless families, and renaming them “family hubs”.

“This is just moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Sinn Fein Councillor Daithi Doolan, who chairs Dublin City Council’s housing committee.

A spokesperson for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) says that 500 homeless families will be accommodated in new family hostels, called “family hubs”.

In some instances, Dublin City Council and the DRHE will lease private hotels to create the hubs. “There will be between 10-15 family accommodation hubs,” said a DRHE spokesperson.

The family hubs will be run by private operators, including, in some cases, “experienced NGO service providers”. The DRHE was unable to confirm who would be running the hubs not operated by NGOs.

“Rebranding”

Anthony Flynn, of Inner City Helping Homeless, says this “family-hubs” progamme is just a re-branding exercise.

“So, this means that the Minister can actually turn around and say that he reduced the number of people that are living in B&Bs and hotel accommodation but in reality, it’s not happening,” says Flynn.

But homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry gave the development a cautious welcome, as a transitional measure.

“It’s not ideal,” he said, speaking on Monday last, after a rally organised by the National Homeless & Housing Coalition.

“I think a family deserves their own bathroom and their own kitchen facilities. However, at the moment they don’t have any kitchen facilities, so it’s an improvement,” said McVerry.

Roughan MacNamara of Focus Ireland said that when homeless hostels were originally established, for single people, they were supposed to be temporary. But they’re still here.

It is very important that these family hubs do not become a permanent feature of our society too, MacNamara said.

New Family Hostels

The DRHE has secured a five-year lease for Lynam’s Hotel for an undisclosed sum. It will renovate the hotel for up to 40 homeless families, said a spokesperson.

Two other “family hubs” will be located at Clonliffe Road and Gardiner Street. The DRHE is attempting to lease a number of other hotels also, she said.

“The new family hubs will have the capacity to provide play space, cooking and laundry facilities and communal recreation supports,” the DRHE spokesperson said.

These hubs will also have “round the clock onsite staff”, says Eddie Kearnan, a press officer at the Department of Housing.

The DRHE said that the hubs will start accommodating families in “summer 2017”.

The hubs will be an improvement, as long as they are run by homeless charities, said Councillor Doolan. Otherwise, they will be “glorified B&Bs”, he says.

It is not yet known whether the shift from hotels to “family hubs” will save money.

Dublin City Council spent nearly €39 million  accommodating homeless families in commercial hotels, in 2016. That’s out of a total of more than €96 million spent on homeless services and accommodation.

The Minister’s Promise

Last January, the Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, promised to end the practice of accommodating homeless families in hotels.

The plan was to use the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) to help some people get into private-rented accommodation, build more “rapid-build” homes to house others, and shift still others to these “family hubs”.

“The aim is that by mid-2017, hotels will only be used for emergency accommodation in very limited circumstances,” Department of Housing Press Officer Eddie Kearnan said last week.

Councillor Doolan says that the July deadline is “arbitrary”, and that there was no consultation with families, or the Dublin City Council’s housing committee when deciding on that date.

Workers’ Party Councillor Eilis Ryan dubbed the move from commercial hotels to leased hotels as “emergency accommodation rebranded”.

Alternative Solutions

Rather than pursuing the “family hubs” strategy, the government should be focused on building more homes, several critics said.

“We need to be building more homes, similar to rapid build, on our own land,” Doolan said. “That is where the minister should focus his energy not dressing up the private sector as some type of solution. It is not.”

Karan O’Loughlin of the National Housing and Homeless Coalition said that while the hubs might be an improvement, for families, “it’s a bad temporary solution that really needs to be only a temporary solution while public houses are being built”.

Housing assistance programmes are also not the answer, O’Loughlin said. The only answer is a large public housing building programme.

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Author:

Gary Ibbotson and Laoise Neylon: Gary Ibbotson is a freelance journalist from Dublin. Laoise Neylon is a regular contributor to Dublin Inquirer.

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