JAMIE SMYTH Social Affairs Correspondent
ORGANISATIONS THAT help the homeless are moving ahead with plans to close several emergency hostels in Dublin this year as part of a strategy to provide long-term housing to vulnerable people living on the streets.
The controversial plan involves the phasing out of about 1,000 emergency beds in hostels and bed and breakfasts throughout the greater Dublin area and their replacement with 1,200 long-term tenancies. The organisations hope the “Pathway to Home” strategy will enable the Government to meet its target of eliminating long-term homelessness and rough sleeping by the end of the year.
“People shouldn’t be in emergency accommodation for more than six months and after several reviews it was decided to start shifting the emphasis to providing long-term housing. To achieve that you have to shift resources away from emergency response,” said Cathal Morgan, director of Homeless Agency, which is masterminding a radical shake-up of homeless services together with about 30 statutory and voluntary organisations providing services to the homeless.
The strategy will also relocate some homeless services from the city centre to the suburbs and provide specialist care and outreach services to homeless people facing mental health, drug and alcohol dependency problems.
Negotiations between the organisations, which provide 1,450 emergency beds in Dublin, aimed at deciding on which hostels will close, are scheduled to be concluded next month. However, it has already been decided that Cedar House, an emergency hostel in the city centre run by the Salvation Army, will close.
Last month the Salvation Army began consultations with staff working at Cedar House, a move that prompted a campaign to save the hostel. Despite support from Dublin city councillors, who passed a motion at their last monthly meeting calling for the hostel to remain open, Cedar House will close in September, according to the Salvation Army.
Alice Leahy, founder of the homeless charity Trust, said she was concerned the new strategy didn’t accept that there would always be a need for emergency beds. “The experience I have is that people don’t fit easily into boxes, and all the services they plan to offer – such as primary healthcare and outreach – aren’t even there for the general public, never mind homeless,” she said.
She said the strategy was being fast-tracked to meet unrealistic Government targets and could lead to the ghettoisation of vulnerable homeless people in social housing. She said it would also lead to the privatisation of services provided to homeless people.
In an interview with The Irish Times yesterday, Mr Morgan rejected criticism of the strategy, saying he would give a commitment that no hostel or service should be decommissioned unless an alternative was in place.
“We recognise that not every instance of homelessness can be prevented and we know there are complexities,” said Mr Morgan, who added the Homeless Agency Partnership was working towards having a minimum of 200 emergency beds available by the end of this year.
He said successful delivery of the strategy was contingent on the four local authorities in the Dublin area providing the 1,200 long-term tenancies required to house homeless people. He said the agency had a target of creating 1,000 long-term tenancies in 2009 but had only managed 700.
“It is taking time in terms of building up traction and getting agreement between local authorities, the Government and housing bodies . . . The will and desire is there but we need to secure deals with private property owners,” said Mr Morgan.
‘I was sleeping rough for 2½ years with the odd night in a hostel’
Alcohol propelled an actor into a long stretch on the streets. Crosscare got him back on his feet, writes Jamie Smyth
ALAN DEVLIN, currently starring in the Gaiety’s production of the play Philadelphia, Here I Come!, knows what it is like to fall on hard times.
The actor (63) has fought a life-long battle with alcohol, which at various times has cost him his job, his health and his home.
“I remember at one point fighting for space to sleep outside a supermarket opposite Toner’s pub. We slept overnight on the bloody road.
“I was there for up to eight weeks squeezing in between these guys to keep warm,” says Devlin, who has also slept in skips, old abandoned cars and doorways.
“I think I was sleeping rough for about 2½ years, maybe getting the odd night in a hostel.
“But these could be dangerous with people sneaking in bottles and using drugs,” he says.
Devlin, who is a past winner of a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award in London, managed to turn his life around with the help of Crosscare, a social care agency run by the archdiocese of Dublin.
“I got a place in the emergency hostel at Bentley House in Dún Laoghaire first and then they put me in my own apartment in the centre, which was very high-spec,” he says.
Bentley House is one of a new generation of homeless shelters, which provide the type of high- level support and transitional accommodation to help people move back into full-time housing, as envisaged by “Pathway to Home” strategy for homeless, housing and support provision.
“It was a great set-up there. You get your own place with a view over Dún Laoghaire harbour,” says Devlin, who managed to get himself sober and began working again while staying at the centre.
“I began working on the film Leap Year while at the centre. They used to send round a car to pick me up.
“A lot of the other guys at the centre just couldn’t believe this,” he says.
About a year ago, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council managed to find Devlin a lease for a house in Dalkey.
After performing at the Gaiety, he says he likes nothing better than getting back to his own home.
“I used to scoff at people who mowed lawns or washed cars but now I’ve three pairs of slippers and I look forward to doing the gardening,” says Devlin.
Friday, March 05 2010
More than 28,000 homeowners are three months behind with mortgage repayments, official figures revealed today.
The Central Bank said lenders issued formal warnings to 5,096 households as they sought to recover debts of about €70m.
The second quarterly report revealed 152 homes were repossessed in the final three months of the year which included 17 homes being surrendered to lenders voluntarily and 11 others abandoned.
According to the review, there were almost 793,000 household mortgage accounts worth €118.3bn in Ireland.
The Irish Banking Federation said there had been a drop in the number of repossessions compared with the summer.
The group also said its members made every effort to avoid repossession with an overall rate of 13 per 100,000, compared with 93 per 100,000 in the UK.
The Regulator's data showed:
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said he welcomed the decrease in court actions against those in debt.
"I also welcome the finding that almost half the cases that went to court were settled on the basis of a renegotiation of the term and/or other conditions of the mortgage," the minister said.
"It is in all our interests, including the lenders, that families hold on to their homes and that repossession is the very last resort."
An expert group under Hugh Cooney begins work this week on responses to the problems of mortgage arrears and personal debt.
The country's largest housing association, Respond, claimed the figures do not show the true number of families in difficulty.
It claimed 30,000 people have switched to interest-only mortgages to reduce bills and fears they may still run into trouble with repayments.
Spokeswoman Aoife Walsh said: "This fact is not reflected in today's figures and we are concerned that when interest rates increase, so too will the struggle and stress facing families on a daily basis.
"A very large portion of these mortgage holders are already on the brink of default.
"The smallest interest rate increase by banks or the European Central Bank, or any further reduction in income, will push them over the edge into mortgage default and possible legal action in 12 months' time."
Respond said the expert group needs more detailed information on mortgage holders from the banks.
"We would like the scope expanded so that all banks must also report on types of mortgages and levels of negative equity faced by homeowners every month," Ms Walsh said.
"It is very difficult to find a solution to mortgage arrears and negative equity if we are not aware of the true extent of the problem."
Thursday January 14 2010
Q: MY wife and I bought our home two years ago utilising a 100pc mortgage.
However, from what I understand we are now in negative equity as our house is only worth about three quarters of the mortgage. We bought it with the intention of raising our family there. Like most people we are finding things challenging financially, but we are employed and able to manage.
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FOLLOW THE LINK ABOVE TO SEE THE ROUGH SLEEPER COUNT FOR 2009.
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