When Philip Menton went to draw his weekly homeless payment on Thursday, he couldn’t.
He was at the GPO, handing over his PPS to get the €201 that makes up the weekly basic supplementary welfare allowance for those who are homeless, which he’d been collecting for 16 months, he says.
A few pitstops later, he worked out what had happened – that he’d been moved onto jobseeker’s allowance.
That seemed, in some ways, absurd. Like others, Menton was eager to, and able to, work. But also like others, he found the homeless hostel system had been an obstacle, rather than an aid, to him doing that.
After the GPO, Menton had gone to the Social Welfare Office on North Cumberland Street, which hosts the Homeless Person Men’s Unit.
“They said they’d only be dealing with people that are going to be ringing every night,” says Menton.
In other words, those stuck using the homeless freephone, who have to call every night to get a bed.
Some people, once they’ve managed to jump through the hoops to register as homeless and eligible for social housing, can be moved onto a “rolling” bed, and don’t have to call every night.
That’s Menton right now. He’s been in the same bed in the same hostel for since August, he says. So he can no longer get the weekly basic supplementary welfare allowance.
“She said this is a new thing they’re bringing out,” says Menton.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said people in long-term emergency accommodation, counted as more than 28 days, have been asked to go to their local Intreo Centre since 2017.
Either way, Menton was told he would have to make an appointment with the Intreo office and move his payment to the Jobseeker’s Allowance – which would be a nuisance, says Menton, because if he did find work, his trade requires him to work nights.
Homeless and Working
The kicker for Menton was that he had found jobs before, twice, while homeless, but because of the way the hostel system runs, he hadn’t been able to accept them.
“They were baking jobs,” says Menton. That meant night work, which meant he needed somewhere to sleep during the day – but the homeless hostels he was staying in were night-time only.
“I said, ‘Well I’m trying to get back to work, and I need somewhere to sleep during the day and I said basically in a few months I can try rent a place myself,’” he said.
But he couldn’t get a place to sleep during the day, and so he couldn’t take the jobs. That was last November, and Menton still does not have access to a bed he can use 24-hours a day.
Menton says an official at the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) told him the “cold weather initiative” – whereby the council makes more beds and mats available during some of the worst-weather months – meant they couldn’t offer him a 24-hour bed.
A spokesperson for the DRHE said the cold weather initiative would have no impact on the service they would provide for Menton. “We will work to accommodate people’s situations if and where we can,” the spokesperson said.
“In general terms, we have reduced drastically the number of one-night-only beds and we only use them [for people] whose eligibility for social housing is uncertain,” she said. “The majority of placements are 24-hour beds.”
She said she didn’t have a breakdown to hand, though, for how exactly how many beds there are in the system, and how many of those are one-night only and 24-hour beds. Also, it’s unclear exactly what exactly counts as a 24-hour bed.
Menton is on the social-housing waiting list, but can only access his bed between 6:30pm and 9am, he says. He doesn’t have to call the freephone each day, though.
Greg Walsh says the same. He became homeless after his relationship broke down with his ex-partner, he says.
At first he slept in a van, but it got too cold. He went down to Parkgate Street, registered as homeless, and stayed in the Brú Hostel on Thomas Street.
Throughout this time, he continued working as a bricklayer, he says. But it hasn’t been easy.
“People would be tossing and turning in front of ya, they’d be banging, taking drugs. There would be fights breaking out,” says Walsh. “You wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep. Your nutrition is brutal. I’m after losing two kilos from it. It’s horrible.”
After explaining to the DRHE that he was working, Walsh was eventually transferred to a hostel in Neilstown.
It’s better, he says. But it’s still not a long-term solution for those who are homeless. “They should be 24 hours,” says Walsh, “a come-and-go type of thing.”
Walsh “is not in appropriate accommodation”, says Jim Hargis, job centre manager at the St Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street.
“There is no point in a man doing construction work if he can’t come home and have a shower. He needs to be clean for all kind of reasons,” Hargis says.
At St Andrew’s Resource Centre, they provide a range of services for people who are homeless and seeking employment.
This includes training, help setting up bank accounts and writing CVs, as well advocacy work and making sure people who are homeless are in suitable accommodation in order to work.
“When we are dealing with homeless it’s mainly men. We are looking at the economic issues, the employment issues and finding employers who are prepared to take on somebody that may have had a chaotic background at one time or another,” says Hargis.
Integral to this, says Hargis, is having accommodation that “is the standard that they can go to work from it”.
“This is not rocket science. That’s totally possible to do. It just needs a bit of organisational wit,” says Hargis.
It’s something Menton has been seeking since last August.
“I’m going to be made jump through hoops,” says Menton, talking about the forms that he needs to fill out the forms for his new jobseekers claim, a laborious task when lots of the documentation has been lost during homelessness.
Jobseekers allowance is €2 more than the homeless payment but it comes with additional stresses, says Menton.
The problem with the jobseekers allowance is that they can make him take a CE scheme or do a training course that he doesn’t need when he already has a trade, had job offers, and just needs a bed that he can access during the day, says Menton.
“I want to work. I want to work full time,” says Menton. “I have three kids who are in their teens. I need to work to help them out.”