Charities warn efforts to normalise homelessness "an insult"

The head of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is facing calls to resign her position

Homeless, Dublin City Council, safe homes, Uplift, Daithi Doolan,

File photo | Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated 18:30

The president of St Vincent de Paul has warned that efforts to talk down the homeless crisis are an insult to people struggling on the streets and in emergency accommodation.

Kieran Stafford was speaking in the wake of the Taoiseach’s claim that our homeless figures are not high by international standards.

Meanwhile, the head of the Housing Agency claimed that homelessness is not a crisis, but a normal factor of life.

Separately, the junior housing minister accused the media of exaggerating the scale of the crisis.

Insulting comments

Mr Stafford said the comments are hurtful to the homeless – and the 50,000 people that will contact St Vincent de Paul for help this Christmas.

“I think it is important not to portray this as normal - because it isn’t normal,” he said.

“It isn’t normal and it isn’t acceptable that we have 139,000 children that are going hungry a number of times a week.

“It is not acceptable that we have over 3,000 children who are in emergency accommodation.”

He said life in emergency accommodation is extremely difficult for parents struggling to raise their children.

“You have great mothers, you have great parents who are supporting their children under extreme difficulties and extreme situations,” he said.

“You have a mother in hotel room with two young children. They are trying to do homework, they are trying to provide meals and all of their income is spent on going to cafés and eating out.

“How do they do laundry? How do they have their own little personal space and privacy? They don’t have any of that and it is absolutely, simply wrong.”

Resignation

Meanwhile the CEO of a Dublin homeless charity has called for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) head, Eileen Gleeson to resign over her controversial comments on homelessness.

Ms Gleeson has since moved to clarify the comments - insisting she was trying to highlight the complex needs of homeless people.

However, Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) chief Anthony Flynn said she should now step down:

“I do believe at this time that Eileen should resign,” he said. “I think that at this point in time the comments have gone too far.”

“I think that obviously we are shown a clear lack of compassion in regard to her position as the director of homeless services.”

Better language

This morning, Ms Gleeson admitted she “could have probably used better language” when she questioned the value of charity groups who hand out comforts like soup and sleeping bags to people sleeping rough on the streets.

She made the comments at the Dublin City Council Policing Committee yesterday - where she also said that long-term homelessness was the result of years of “bad behaviour.”

“Let’s be under no illusion here, when somebody becomes homeless it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years of bad behaviour probably, or behaviour that isn’t the behaviour of you and me,” she said.

She said rough sleepers on the banks of the Royal Canal are “quite happy to continue with the chaotic lifestyle they have” adding that “if there wasn't groups going down there to feed them every day, they mightn't stay there for much longer."

Speaking to Ciara Kelly on Lunchtime Live this afternoon, she said she was trying to point out that while volunteer services are “doing a great job” and are “well-intentioned” they are not getting people out of the homeless cycle.

Outdated ideas

Meanwhile, long-time homelessness campaigner Father Peter McVerry said Ms Gleeson has outdated ideas about people who sleep rough:

“It has got nothing to do with bad behaviour or pathology within the homeless person,” he said. “Homelessness is predominantly a consequence of inadequate Government policies.”

Campaigner Erica Flemming - who was homeless herself for a time – said she was “speechless” when she heard the comments labelling them “pure snobbery”:

Media exaggeration

Meanwhile the junior housing minister has accused the media of exaggerating the scale of the homelessness crisis.

Fine Gael TD Damien English admitted homelessness levels aren't acceptable, but echoed the Taoiseach's claim that they're low by international standards.

He insisted the problem is being addressed, and claimed that "a negative narrative" in the media was hurting Ireland's reputation, adding that it is not acceptable to “hear commentators talking down our country.”

“Some of this narrative has seeped into international coverage of our housing system,” he said.

“It is damaging to Ireland’s international reputation that our social response to this issue is to be portrayed as dysfunctional.

“As Teachta Dála we have a responsibility in this regard and the good work being done in difficult circumstances needs to be recognised.” 

"Lowest levels of homelessness"

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments came as he addressed the Fine Gael national conference over the weekend.

He insisted the Government's housing plan is working, and claimed the country has one of the "lowest levels of homelessness."

"The number of people in emergency accommodation has increased in the last number of years, but by international standards, homelessness in Ireland is low," he said.

He later admitted on Twitter that homelessness is a “stain on our society and we’ll do all we can to eliminate it.”