Ireland's homeless population deserves better than automated rejections during storm season
"The impact on mental health and physical health can't be overstated."
Homeless people on Dublin's streets during this week's torrential rain are being turned away from emergency beds by an automated freephone response.
On Tuesday, a video shared by Inner City Helping Homeless on their social channels showed a phone call to Dublin City Council's homeless helpline.
In the footage, the automated callback informs the caller that they will be transferred to an operator, rings twice, and then a programmed response says: "We currently do not have emergency beds available for single adults," asking the caller to try again later.
This week, Ireland is set to be hit by the remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo — a Category 5 storm that has torn across the Atlantic and is expected to sweep through Ireland throughout Thursday and Friday.
Such is the uncertainty around the storm, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy yesterday convened a meeting of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group. Murphy has also said in Dáil Éireann that there are enough beds in Ireland for all those who need them.
Nevertheless, ICHH said they dealt with no less than 166 people on the streets on Tuesday night who could not access emergency beds.
Speaking to JOE, Brian McLoughlin, Head of Communications for ICHH, reported "people coming to us from 10 o’clock looking for changes of socks, underwear, clothes. Their sleeping bags were soaking and freezing before our teams even went out in the evening. With the rain like it was on Monday and Tuesday, everything they have is going to be soaked.
"The impact on their mental health and physical health cant be overstated."
ICHH say they have run into the same problem during other weather emergencies, including the Beast from the East and Storm Ophelia.
"It's always a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted," says McLoughlin of government policy.
"Rather than having something prepared so that people can get off the streets straight away. It's completely disingenuous for Eoghan Murphy and (Minister of State for Housing and Urban Developmen) Damien English to come out and say we have a plan."
After torrential rain yesterday and most of today it is now a freezing cold night around Dublin. We heard numerous assurances that there was a bed for everyone with contingency beds available.
Imagine walking the streets all day cold and went and making this call for a bed? pic.twitter.com/PiQBnjmPDM
— ICHHDUBLIN (@ICHHDUBLIN) October 1, 2019
In response to questions from JOE as to what contingency plans were in place and how these plans could be accessed by those in need, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: "In the event of extreme weather over the coming days, local authorities have been requested by the Department to put in place the necessary arrangements to ensure the safety of rough sleepers and users of homeless emergency accommodation.
"Local authorities will have shelter available for all who require it. Increased outreach will be undertaken to encourage rough sleepers to avail of emergency accommodation." A further request for specifics directed the questions towards the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE).
The contingency plan published by DHRE reads: "The Dublin Region Homeless Executive is ready to respond to ensure homeless persons at risk are sheltered for the duration of any extreme weather event.
"We have been working with our partners in homeless services and have developed contingency plans which will form part of a coordinated response that can be activated during extreme weather conditions or adverse events."
In order to engage with these plans, those sleeping rough are advised to call the Dublin Street Outreach Service, administered by all four Dublin local authorities, at 01 872 0185.
Again, explicit detail on the plans are not forthcoming. As McLoughlin says: "It is not clear where the beds are, or if they are even beds, or a mat on the floor."
McLoughlin has said that it's possible that additional beds are not registered on the Dublin City Council homeless helpline, meaning that those using the DCC freephone service have not been helped.
Earlier this week, statistics published by the Department of Housing revealed that more than 10,000 people are accessing emergency accommodation services for the seventh month in a row.
The number of homeless children had increased once again, with 3,848 children in Ireland currently being raised homeless. The total figure is set at 10,338, with 66% of those people based in Dublin.
Those who work in charities assisting the homeless would be quick to note that these figures don't tell the whole story.
Numbers collected and published by the Department of Housing don't include women and children in domestic violence shelters funded by Tulsa, adults and children in hostels not funded by Government departments, "rough sleepers" and those still living in Direct Provision despite having secured their leave to remain.
As winter approaches, temperatures are set to drop and storms like Lorenzo will become more common. Hundreds of Irish people are in danger of being exposed to the worst weather of the year.
They deserve better than an automated "no."