Carlos Daly, who is homeless, says Dublin Regional Homeless Executive turned him down in the past for a bed and then refused even to give him a sleeping bag.
“I had been sleeping rough for a week,” says Daly. “I rang up the freephone, but I was up on number 60 on the list, so I knew I wasn’t getting a bed.”
As he tells it, he was told by the man on the freephone that he couldn’t have a sleeping bag as he had already had one the night before.
“I said it was pissing out of the heavens last night,” says Daly. But the man still refused to give him a sleeping bag, he says.
Daly is not the only one. Other homeless people who have ended up sleeping rough have also reported being refused sleeping bags.
This conflicts with a statement from a spokesperson for the DRHE, who said the organisation never refuses anyone access to a sleeping bag.
“Sleeping bags are provided to clients as a humanitarian response when there is no accommodation available,” said the spokesperson. “There are no restrictions on who can receive a sleeping bag.”
The DRHE spokesperson said that the organisation does not refuse people if they ask for sleeping bags on consecutive nights.
“On the contrary,” she said, “second sleeping bags are issued in instances where the … first bag issued … had become unusable.” If it got wet, for example.
The DRHE say they have received no complaints in relation to refusal of sleeping bags in 2015, 2016 and so far this year.
Back in mid-February, Anne-Marie Donovan was in the Capuchin Day Centre near Smithfield and said she’d been refused a sleeping bag the previous night because she wasn’t registered as homeless.
Donovan said she was being threatened at her council flat and had reported it to the Gardai. They had given her with a letter to confirm what had happened, which she had passed on to the local authority and so was waiting for a transfer to another home.
She had tried to get a bed through the helpline, but said she was told there were none available for women.
The previous night, she’d slept with her partner in a disused car. “It was absolutely freezing,” she said.
She had asked for and been refused a sleeping bag, she said. As she understood it, the reason was “because I’m not on the list”.
But she was unable to register as homeless because she was waiting for a transfer, she said.
Brian McCloughlin, a team leader with Inner City Helping Homeless, says he regularly rings up the DRHE freephone on behalf of people he meets on the streets, to help them out.
On more than one occasion, people have been refused bags because they weren’t registered with the DRHE, McCloughlin says.
“The last one I had was about two or three months ago. We met a guy on Talbot Street with an English girl,” he says. “We got chatting to them and she had just arrived over. They had befriended each other and were sticking together.”
McCloughlin phoned the freephone on behalf of the rough sleepers to book two sleeping bags, but he was unable to get one for the women, he says.
“I got her details and I gave them to him, and he said, ‘She’s not in the system. We can’t give her one if she’s not registered. She needs to go down and register,’” says McCloughlin.
“It was a wet night, she had just arrived over from England, why not just give it to her?” he says.
Inner City Helping Homeless usually distribute sleeping bags to anyone who needs them, but they had run out on that occasion, McCloughlin said.
The DRHE spokesperson said that: “On very rare occasions, persons who ring the freephone who have not accessed services before will be asked to present to a Garda station and show their ID in order to confirm their identity. After which they can access services. ”
Refused an Offer
McCloughlin says he rang the freephone once on behalf of a man who had refused an offer from DRHE for a bed for the night.
The man’s partner hadn’t been offered a bed, and he didn’t want to leave her on the street by herself for the night.
The worker told McCloughlin the man couldn’t have a sleeping bag because he had refused an offer of accommodation. He relayed this to the man.
On that occasion, McCloughlin says he argued the case and eventually got a referral for a sleeping bag for the man.
In 2016, the DRHE spent €192,586 on 9,391 sleeping bags.
Anthony Flynn, CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless, says that the organisation is spending an additional €3,500 per month on sleeping bags, and that many other charities also distribute sleeping bags.
Washing and re-using sleeping bags isn’t a good idea, for health-and-safety reasons, said the DRHE spokesperson.
Patrick Kielly, who’s homeless, said some homeless people don’t understand where they need to go to collect a sleeping bag if they’re offered one – the instructions aren’t always clear enough.
“All persons who request a sleeping bag will be directed to a designated service provider to pick up the sleeping bag,” said the spokesperson for the DRHE.
Then there is also the issue of storage. “The problem is you have nowhere to store the sleeping bag too, so even if you get one, it’s very hard to hold on to it,” says Kielly.
Homeless people should be given lockers, McCloughlin says. “Many of them do stash their sleeping bag and cardboard somewhere during the day, but often they say, ‘I went back to get my stuff and it was gone,’” he says.
Storage lockers are provided to homeless people in some other cities, such as Lisbon in Portugal, for around €500 each. It means they can store keepsakes, and get post.
Demand for sleeping bags is growing, according to Lorraine O’Connor chairperson of Muslim Sisters of Éire, a group that distributes food and other aid to homeless people every Friday night on O’Connell Street.
“The situation on the streets is dire,” she says. “The sleeping bag situation is that we never have enough.”
Inner City Helping Homeless has run out of sleeping bags at times because demand is so high, said McCloughlin.
The DRHE system for distributing the bags seems to her not to be working, given the number of people they meet looking for a sleeping bag, says O’Connor. “There should be someone going around giving out those sleeping bags.”
O’Connor says she has started to buy a new type of sleeping bag to give homeless people, one with a handle. She hopes this will make it easier for people to carry it around during the day and hang on to it.
Two weeks ago, a young man approached O’Connor in a state of “desperation”, she says. He had just been discharged from hospital and was still wearing a hospital name tag, she says.
She asked him what he needed. “He said: ‘A sleeping bag, I’ve nowhere to sleep,’” as she recalls.
“So they are being discharged from the hospital back out onto the streets … it’s appalling,” O’Connor said.