Homeless accommodation: Staff complaints detail racial abuse, drug use, threatening behaviour

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ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR, drinking and smoking in accommodation, and fire and safety issues.

These are some of the main complaints and concerns raised by staff working in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region.

Homeless charities have long criticised the long-term use of hotels and B&Bs to house people, saying that the accommodation is not suitable.

Entire families can sometimes end up living between one hotel room for months at a time, with no proper cooking or cleaning facilities.

Family hubs are group homes for homeless families which were first announced by Government early in 2017. 

Hubs have been rolled out in Dublin in an attempt to end the widespread use of commercial hotels and B&Bs for housing homeless families.

Documents obtained by TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act detail complaints made by staff working in homeless emergency accommodation from December 2017 to August of this year.

In August, we reported some of the complaints and issues homeless people living in emergency accommodation claim they deal with, including traces of drugs, bed bugs and substandard room conditions. 

The DRHE manages homeless services for all of Dublin.

Issues raised by staff in emergency accommodation include claims of racism and verbal abuse against staff, drug and alcohol use and banned cooking equipment in rooms. 

Commenting on the general types of issues that recurred in the documents, Focus Ireland’s director of advocacy Mike Allen said that “it’s the inherent nature of homeless shelters and institutional living that certain sorts of issues start to arise”. 

When you put 60 people in one building, some of whom have social issues, some of whom don’t, but none of whom this is actually their home, you then start to have imposing rules, and then inevitably some people break the rules or they’re unhappy with each other. 

“One of the things that happen in those circumstances is people, who if they were in their own home would be considered just ordinary people on the street or apartment block, end up looking if they’re socially, badly adjusted or they’re anti-social,” Allen said. 

“But if they had their own home, the behaviours which are problematic in the homeless shelters would be perfectly normal and nobody would care,” he said. 

All identifying data in the documents was redacted by officials in order to protect the privacy of the people involved.

Fire and safety issues

Some issues faced by those working in homeless emergency accommodation are laid bare by numerous fire and safety concerns raised throughout the pages of the FOI documents. 

In one instance, a staff member wrote that housekeeping staff claimed that “many people are cooking in their rooms and have candles in their rooms”. 

“For obvious fire and safety reasons I have asked everyone to remove any cooking equipment including microwaves from their rooms,” they wrote. 

Back in December 2017, it was alleged that on entering a room during a routine inspection, staff claimed there was a smell of burning. 

“It was noted that there was smoke coming from under the dressing table,”

The staff member wrote that on investigation, a person had hidden a two-hob underneath the dressing table and put a footmuff, a blanket for a baby’s pram essentially, over it to conceal it. 

The staff member claimed that a person had just finished cooking on the hob and the foot-muff was smouldering. In this instance, the person was advised that there were kitchen facilities downstairs in the property if she needed to heat a baby’s bottle or similar.

Another complaint in January claims that a person was informed that electrical items such as toasters were not allowed in rooms due to fire safety regulations. However, the complaint claims that the person “ignored this” and brought a toaster, microwave and deep fat fryer into her room. 

Allen noted that some of the buildings being used for emergency accommodation are not of adequate standard. 

“So, if you’ve got a family and you provide them with emergency accommodation that doesn’t include cooking facilities, of course, some people are going to try to break the rules,” he said. 

That’s just human beings trying in adverse circumstances trying to make the best life they can for themselves. 

A study from Focus Ireland last year outlined that many children living in emergency accommodation in Ireland are living off frozen food and takeaways due to a lack of cooking and storage facilities. 

The report outlines parents’ daily struggle to provide healthy meals for their children and themselves due to the challenging circumstances of living on very low incomes in emergency homeless accommodation.

Homeless families reported supplementing their diets with noodles, instant pasta, chicken, chips and pizza.

Speaking at the time of the report launch, Michelle Share, one of the authors, said: “It’s not just about food and nutrition. Families have to rely on takeaways and convenience foods. 

It makes it harder for children to develop good eating habits as they have to eat in socially unacceptable circumstances, like dining on the bed, or on the floor, lined up at a counter and sometimes even under CCTV surveillance.

“They get used to dining in communal settings or with tourists – rather than as a family around the table. All of this means a loss of dignity.”
Abuse

Numerous examples of anti-social behaviour were raised throughout the documents. 

One complaint claims a person was “extremely racist and threatening towards staff”. 

“At one point she was walking around the house with her child in one arm and a bottle of wine in the other arm. Please note that [REDACTED] was extremely racist and threatening towards staff on each occasion.” 

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Source: DRHE

A number of complaints made in March detail claims of abuse and threats being made towards staff. 

One reads:

[REDACTED] is here threatening the staff and damaging the doors every weekend. It’s a major health and safety concern for both staff and residents.

It appears that it isn’t just staff members who deal with anti-social behaviour in emergency accommodation. 

One complaint claims that a person attacked another guest “because he would not share his cigarettes with him”. 

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Source: DRHE

In January, a staff member claimed that a guest was “extremely disturbed” as she advised them that she was “in the smoking area with her son and [REDACTED] [REDACTED] was smoking drugs (again inside the premises) and making racist remarks about guests that were in the kitchen”. 

It was also alleged that a person “was picking up a chair and swinging it around in a threatening manner”. 

Drug use 

In another complaint in January, a staff member claimed that a person was smoking drugs in a family hub. 

“I have personally spoken with [REDACTED] four times in the last week requesting he not smoke drugs on the premises.

[REDACTED] is smoking drugs in the room between the laundry room and the kitchen.

“I advised him that this behaviour is not tolerated and that this is a family hub and that there are children on site,” the complaint read. 

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Source: DRHE

In February, a complaint outlined that a man arrived at the property at 10.30am on the given day “under the influence of drugs and alcohol”. 

“[REDACTED] is keeping drugs in her room that belong to [REDACTED] and when they are arguing she won’t give them to him,” the complaint claimed. 

It claimed that staff members told the man to leave, which he did. However, it says that he returned, “threatening everyone, kicking the doors and trying to break the windows”. 

Looking at the flipside of these complaints, as noted above, we previously reported some of the complaints and issues homeless people living in emergency accommodation deal with.

To give a brief insight into those complaints, one person claimed there was an “outbreak of bed bugs” in their hotel in July. 

The complainant claimed: 

My room was badly affected. When I noticed bites on myself and my children I brought it to the attention of [REDACTED]. He accused me of bringing the bed bugs myself. I was really upset by this. the hotel did eventually relent and allowed me to move rooms at which point the problem ceased.

The person went on to claim that more recently they have had an “issue with mice” in their room.

Another complaint raised concerns over a child who was “playing in the house with other children” when the “house manager [REDACTED] became aggressive and started swearing at the children”.

Emergency accommodation in Dublin

The government has come in for strong criticism in recent years for its use of hotels and unsuitable accommodation to house homeless families.

The number of families living in hotels and B&Bs has continued to rise across the country, despite claims that family hubs are the “preferred response” to the homeless crisis. 

Figures from the DRHE show that there were more than 800 families in hotels and B&Bs in June, 12 months after the government’s self-imposed deadline to end the practice.

By comparison, just 530 families were placed in so-called Supported Emergency Accommodation – including family hubs and ‘own door’ accommodation’ – the same month. 

The hubs were introduced last year by former Minister for Housing Simon Coveney, who pledged to remove homeless families from commercial hotels and B&Bs by 1 July 2017 – a promise that had to be rowed back on.

Unlike hotels and B&Bs, the hubs are designed to act as a longer-term form of accommodation, and include play space for children and cooking and laundry facilities for families who live in them.

22/1/2018 Housing Issues
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy


Source: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has previously indicated the placement of families in hubs is a priority, previously referring to the move as “the preferred first response” for those who enter emergency accommodation. 

However, others have complained that the hubs ‘normalise’ homelessness, comparing to the direct provision system for asylum seekers.

Mike Allen noted that the DRHE has a contract with homeless accommodation which requests that they pass on issues residents have at the accommodation. 

Latest figures show that there were 5,834 adults and 3,693 children in emergency accommodation during the recorded period in August – a total of 9,527 people. 

The government came in for criticism when it released the figures, as it announced that more people have been re-categorised out of the emergency accommodation figures. More on that can be read here

In a statement accompanying the FOI documents sent to TheJournal.ie, DRHE said that “in the absence of adequate social housing supply and the difficulties in the private rented market”, the DRHE and the four Dublin local authorities are currently providing emergency accommodation for around 3,950 adults, which includes around 1,300 families across the Dublin Region. 

Providing emergency accommodation to homeless families and single adults is not without its challenges. However, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is committed to providing safe and effective service provision to persons experiencing homelessness.

It added that it “actively pursues all complaints and has a formal complaints policy that deals with all complaints received”.

“The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has service level agreements with service providers which ensures compliance with all the statutory health and safety standards and to particular legislative requirements, including Children First act 2015 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.”


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