Credit: Dublin Enquirer
In Drumcondra, some question whether a homeless hostel that opened earlier this month should be run by a private company rather than a charity.
“We need high-quality facilities that are based on the needs of people and not on profit-making incentives,” says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.
A spokesperson for Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) says the property owners, Brimwood Ltd, will operate the hostel directly.
Most emergency accommodation for homeless people in Dublin is run by private companies not charities, figures from the Department of Housing for the last week in March 2020 suggest.
The contract with Brimwood Limited in Drumcondra is to accommodate 40 people at a time for five years, according to an April report from DRHE to councillors.
“The average length of time an individual will reside there is envisaged to be between 3 and 6 months,” said the report, which refers to this as “emergency accommodation”. “The property is not a hostel and there is no NGO involved in the management.”
Photos of the facility show bunk beds close together. According to the DRHE report, the Gardaí have visited the facility and it complies with social-distancing rules.
Horner, the Green Party councillor, says “we need to make sure that the rights and health of people using the facilities are respected”.
Homeless services should be planned properly and “standards of care set and enforced to support people to effectively exit homelessness rather than simply being removed from the streets”, she says.
“This will take significant investment from central government,” she said.
Management at the hostel didn’t respond to a phone call and two emails, asking if they were available to talk.
According to company records, Brimwood Ltd is owned by Laura McEnaney, a teacher and Monaghan Ladies footballer.
She’s the daughter of Seamus (Banty) McEnaney, who manages the Monaghan senior football team. It’s unclear whether McEnaney is involved in the new homeless hostel in Drumcondra.
A submission from a local group called Carrickmacross Welcomes to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality last year said that Seamus McEnaney runs Trenthall Ltd.
Trenthall Ltd organises emergency accommodation for asylum seekers in Monaghan and Cavan and runs another homeless hostel in Dublin, at 47/48 Amiens Street. It was formerly Bourke’s Bar.
While the submission from Carrickmacross Welcomes said that McEnaney runs Trenthall, Trenthall Ltd is owned, according to company records, by John and Gavin McEnaney.
In its submission to the committee, Carrickmacross Welcomes said that asylum seekers they had met in different Monaghan locations provided by Trenthall faced multiple problems. Among them: cramped accommodation, unsuitable food, and inadequate provision of basic toiletries.
They said that in one hotel people who were not related to each other were expected to share beds.
A spokesperson for the DRHE said that it is “unaware of any issues with Trenthall LTD”.
“Furthermore DRHE has no formal incidents to report on in relation to Trenthall and or Brimwood LTD in the provision of emergency accommodation,” they said.
Seamus McEnaney didn’t respond to two text messages, asking if he or Laura McEnaney were available to discuss the Drumcondra hostel or private hostels in general.
Horner, the Green Party councillor, was surprised that the new homeless hostel in Drumcondra was not going to be run by a charity.
“The move towards private emergency accommodation and the lack of external monitoring of the social-care provisions and supports is deeply troubling,” she says.
In late March, there were 2,442 homeless adults in private emergency accommodation in Dublin – which is more than in charity-run facilities, suggest figures from the Department of Housing.
A spokesperson for the DRHE says that since March, it has opened 470 more beds for single people in private hostels due to the Covid-19 emergency.
That would appear to bring the total in private homeless accommodation to around 2,900 adults.
Fr Peter McVerry, the anti-homelessness campaigner, said he was surprised by that distribution.
Not all of those are in private hostels. Around 540 families living in hotels and B&Bs are included, according to DRHE figures.
The DRHE says that 1,400 single homeless people were in private hostels at the end of March.
Complaints and Standards
At times, people who are homeless and staying in hostels run by private companies have complained about treatment by staff, or the concerns about how complaints are dealt with, or the lack of support workers.
In April this year, Robert Redmond said he had been on the housing list for 12 years. In recent times he was accommodated in privately operated hostels.
It was problem for him because he can’t read and write, he said, and the hostels didn’t offer him any support to progress his housing situation: “there were no key workers in any of them.”
Councillors and homeless advocates are concerned about standards slipping, as more private hostels open.
“An independent oversight body to implement appropriate standards in care is what is required to tackle the downward spiral in service provision,” said independent Councillor Anthony Flynn, who is also the CEO of Inner City Helping Homeless, last October.
The DRHE published its National Quality Framework Standards in 2019. According to its website, and to the document itself, the standards apply to all types of services, including those run by private companies.
The standards require in-depth assessment and support planning for each resident to help them achieve health, well-being, education, and training goals as well as to address their housing needs.
The standards require that all homeless services have a code of conduct for staff, a complaints procedure and an appeals procedure.
There are loftier aims too – like service-user involvement in every aspect of decision making about the service.
Homeless advocates including McVerry and Flynn, as well as homeless people, including Redmond, say that private hostels do not have support workers.
Fr McVerry says he gets complaints from homeless people about standards across the sector: whether charity-run or private.
“There is an issue of standards in all hostels, even in our hostels,” he says. “I’m quite critical of having four people in a room.”
But private hostels are a lot quicker to evict people than charities, he says. “They will throw you out a moment’s notice for what would appear to me to be very minor breaches.”
“They want to make money as comfortably as possible so just get rid of anyone who is problematic,” says McVerry.
The solution is for an independent body to be brought in to inspect all hostels to ensure that they meet the required standards, says McVerry.
“There are standards but there are no inspections, there is no one checking up. They are just standards on paper,” he says.