It’s a struggle to try to make healthy meals when you don’t have a cooker or a fridge. Or to turn children out in clean clothes every day when you don’t have a washing machine.
Homeless mothers face these kinds of practical challenges, says Selina Hogan, a young mum of two from Ballyfermot, who has been living in emergency accommodation for six months.
“It’s not easy on kids, and it’s certainly not easy on adults, who are trying to juggle the responsibility of the kids while trying to figure out the situation that you are in and the place you’re in,” says Hogan.
Her children were used to home-cooked meals, “decent food and a decent dinner”, and then all of a sudden, it was takeaways. That’s bad for their health, she says: “the nutrition is deplorable for children”.
Ballyfermot Chapelizod Homeless Forum hopes to make life a bit easier for parents like Hogan by offering practical supports like healthy meals and laundry facilities to homeless families in their area, as well as a “one-stop shop” for advice and support.
This would be a move towards decentralisation of council services for homeless people, which would reduce the need for people from this part of the city to trek into the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive’s headquarters at Parkgate Hall, across the Liffey from Heuston Station.
“A lot of people steer clear of homelessness because it’s so overwhelming and a national issue,” says Christine Murray, a community worker with the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership, which is part of the forum. “But it’s a matter of looking at it and saying, ‘What can we do locally?’”
The Homeless Forum
In 2015, members of a local church approached the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Partnership looking for help and advice, says Murray.
The church was offering a humanitarian response to the homelessness crisis, giving out and food as well as money, she says. But they were beginning to feel overwhelmed. They were worried about one or two people who had been sleeping in the grounds.
Together, they called a meeting of all the relevant organisations in the local area, and so the homeless forum was born. It’s now made up of local voluntary, community and statutory organisations dealing with homelessness.
At a meeting of Dublin City Council’s housing committee last Thursday, the Forum presented the results of research it had commissioned about the extent of homelessness in the Ballyfermot-Chapelizod area.
They had found that there are 260 people homeless in the area (30 of whom have been sleeping rough), and another 3,352 are at risk of homelessness, mostly because of possible loss of private tenancies (1,500), overcrowding (1,000), and addiction/mental health (700).
Some practical supports are already up and running in the community, says Murray.
St Vincent de Paul has opened a food bank in Cherry Orchard. The Ballyfermot Community Association is giving rough sleepers food vouchers provided by the Red Cross. And Ballyfermot Star offers homeless people access to showers, she says.
At the moment homeless people from across the Dublin City Council area have to present as homeless at the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) offices in Parkgate Hall.
Instead, the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Homeless Forum envisages that all the advice services and the homeless assessment process could take place in the civic centre in Ballyfermot.
The centre has the space, and many of the relevant organisations – including the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and Citizens Information – are already based there, says Murray.
“The civic centre could be utilised as the one-stop shop, as many services are in operation there already – even the cafeteria is there,” she says.
Sometimes presenting as homeless can require several trips to the DRHE in Parkgate Hall, says Hogan. That can be tough for homeless mothers, and especially those with babies or young children who are already undertaking journeys back and forth across the city for school.
If homeless assessments and support for accessing the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme could be offered in the council’s local area office, this would be much easier for homeless parents, Hogan says.
In her case, if these services were local, she might not have had to bring her children to all the appointments. “You could just say to a neighbour or a friend, ‘Can you mind the kids for a few minutes, I just need to run around to the local area office,’ ” she says.
Also, at Thursday’s meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh raised the issue of disabled people having to travel into the city centre for homeless assessment.
But the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive has centralised its services for a reason, said a spokesperson.
“Homelessness is complex, and the facility at Parkgate Hall has many supports and services in one place in order to provide a more holistic service to the person presenting as homeless,” said a spokesperson for the DRHE.
As well as bringing together all the information and advice services in the civic centre, the Ballyfermot Chapelizod Homeless Forum want to set up a resource centre that could provide laundry facilities, meals and Leap card top-ups to those experiencing homelessness locally, says Murray.
A month ago, Hogan and her children moved into the new family “hub” in Ballyfermot, one of several such hostels the government has been setting up around the city as part of an effort to move families like Hogan’s out of hotels.
The hub is a big improvement on the hotels Hogan and her children had been staying in, she says. It’s close to the children’s schools and provides meals and self-catering facilities, she says.
But for those still living in hotels, providing children with healthy meals is a major challenge.
Facilities can vary. “Some hotels would have a toaster, others might just have a kettle,” says Hogan. Some hotels provide breakfast, while others don’t.
Access to large washing machines and dryers would be really helpful, and it would be great if there was a place for parents to get a cup of coffee too, while they’re waiting for their washing, says Hogan.
“It’s those little things that matter to families … It’s about making families as comfortable as they can be and helping to minimise their stress,” she says.
Another issue for those travelling to Ballyfermot from other parts of the city is what to do while the children are at school.
The forum will examine the possibility of organising coffee mornings and activities for homeless parents, while the children are in school, says Michelle Oglesby, a tenancy support worker with Dublin Simon Community.
They also plan on holding workshops with local homeless parents, to find out what other practical resources they might need, says Murray.
The one-stop-shop idea, however, is reliant on an overhaul of how the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive doles out homeless services.
At the housing commitee meeting Thursday, Michelle Oglesby and Gerry McKeever, manager of the Ballyfermot Family Resource Centre, presented the forum’s vision for how homeless services could work in Ballyfermot.
The councillors who were at the meeting seemed interested and supportive, and the chair of the committee, Daithí Doolan, who represents Ballyfermot, suggested that other areas of the city could “import some of the ideas”.
“Parkgate Hall is very far away for some people in our area,” says Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland. “It could mean two buses and a walk with young children to get there. It is adding to their trauma.”
Gilliland says she tabled a motion at a meeting of the council’s North Central Area committee some time ago to request that the council offer homeless services through its local area offices.
At the time she was told that it wasn’t possible, she says. “I don’t see how the services of Parkgate Hall could not be duplicated,” she says.
At Thursday’s meeting, however, Brendan Kenny, the council’s housing manager seemed a bit more receptive to the idea.
The council “couldn’t replicate Parkgate Hall right throughout the city”, Kenny said. But people should be able to do most things in their local office, and “if necessary a phone call is made to Parkgate Hall”, he says.
Councillors should be putting pressure on to get their local area offices to do homelessness assessments, instead of Parkgate Hall, Kenny said. “There is no reason why some of the bigger offices couldn’t be doing that as it stands.”