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'Unfit for purpose' Homelessness campaigner slams suggestion to remove tents and says hostels 'aren't safe'

Council boss Owen Keegan said the tents should be removed and that they add to the perception that the city is “edgy."

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Builders walk by the tent of a homeless person in Dublin.

Builders walk by the tent of a homeless person in Dublin.

Builders walk by the tent of a homeless person in Dublin.

A LEADING homelessness campaigner has rejected a suggestion by the Dublin City Council chief executive that tents belonging to homeless people should be removed from the capital.

Council boss Owen Keegan said the tents should be removed and that they add to the perception that the city is “edgy."

Mr Keegan was speaking after Irish Olympian Jack Woolley was randomly attacked by up to 12 people on Dublin’s Liffey boardwalk on Friday night, and several councillors said parts of the city had been “abandoned” by the Gardaí.

He said he doesn’t believe the capital is necessarily unsafe, but that anti-social behaviour, street drinking and reports of attacks fed the perception that the city was unsafe, which wasn’t necessarily the case.

“There are other aspects, like the proliferation of tents, and I’ll get into trouble for saying this, but we don’t think people should be allowed sleep in tents when there’s an abundance of supervised accommodation in hostels,” he said.

However, homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said today that people do not feel safe in emergency homeless accommodation.

Speaking on Newstalk this morning, he said: “There are beds available every night for people who want them but it’s a simplistic argument. We have to ask why do some people not go into those homeless shelters and the basic reason is that they feel safer sleeping on the streets.

“While some of the emergency accommodation is of excellent quality much of it is unfit for purpose.

“Much of it is shared accommodation where you’ve five or six people sharing a room and the biggest complaint I get from homeless people is that when they wake up in the morning the people they’re sharing the room with are gone and so are their belongings,” he said.

The founder of the Peter McVerry Trust said the second biggest complaint he has received from homeless people is that “they wake up in the middle of the night and people in the room are injecting heroin in front of them. These are people who are drug free or who are trying to stay off drugs and they do not want to go into these hostels.”

He said emergency accommodation is a super spreader event for drug use.

“During the pandemic we talk about super spreader events, but some of these emergency hostels are super spreader events of drug use. People have relapsed back into drug use or have started drug use because they were in those hostels.”

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Fr McVerry said some homeless people have dogs and therefore cannot stay in emergency shelters.

“The dog is the most important relationship in their life and if they go into a homeless shelter, they have to give up the dog and they’re not prepared to do that,” he added.

He said in order to get people off the streets single occupancy rooms need to be provided for homeless people so that they feel safe.

“People need a single room so that they can go in at night, lock the door and know they’re not going to be assaulted during the night, know their belongings are still going to be there in the morning,” he added.

Fr McVerry said no one wants to access emergency accommodation, “homelessness is an appalling way of living, it’s depressing.”

Eight homeless people died on the streets of Dublin last year, according to reports.

Speaking on Newstalk’s Hard Shoulder programme yesterday, Mr Keegan said the council removes tents.

"It’s not very popular but we do it because we don’t believe it’s appropriate,” he said.

“It adds to a perception of a city that is too edgy for some people, and people respond to that by saying ‘well I just won’t go into the city centre.’

“There will be a massive Twitter campaign now against this because every time we mention this they are all out objecting.”

Mr Keegan added that he doesn’t believe tents should be allowed as they’re not as safe as supervised homeless hostels.

“I think objectively being in a tent is much less safe than being in a professionally managed hostel,” he said.

“If you are in a hostel, that is a congregated setting and there has to be some limit on your behaviour, and some people find that very challenging.

“We’ve had up to 100/150 beds available every night for homeless people, and we would have thought that it’s not unreasonable that in those situations, if you’re homeless, you’d go into a professionally managed hostel.”

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