Councils spend €50m on housing homeless in pandemic

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Rodney Edwards

Councils across the country have spent almost €50m on emergency accommodation for homeless people during the pandemic.

Homeless charities say that Covid-19 has added "huge problems" for those living on Ireland's streets.

More than €35.6m was spent by Dublin Region Homeless Executive Central, which sourced 1,000 additional units to address the capacity for DLR County Council, South Dublin County Council, Fingal County Council, and Dublin City Council.

"We are not surprised to see an increase in the expected cost of funding homeless emergency accommodation in 2021," says Brian McLoughlin of Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH), who claims €200m may be needed to provide emergency homeless services in Dublin this year.

"Our biggest concern is the amount being spent on privately operated emergency accommodation units," he says. Over 50pc of homeless emergency accommodation is now run by private operators, many of "whom offer no wrap-around support services on-site".

One of the issues discovered by ICHH early in the pandemic was the number of rough sleepers who had "nowhere to wash and keep themselves clean".

"While the country was being told to wash our hands as much as possible, the people on the streets couldn't due to closures of cafés, fast food outlets, libraries and homeless day services," he says.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Independent show that Limerick County Council spent €5,873,647 in 2020 and €1,309,927 so far this year, while Cork City Council spent €4,149,552 on hiring rooms in hotels and B&Bs throughout 2020.

Louth County Council spent €2,626,735, Cork County Council spent €2,056,156.82, Galway County Council spent €654,393.84 and Kilkenny County Council spent €511,323.

Mayo County Council's total expenditure in the past year was €416,875, with 39 families, three couples and 55 individuals in need of help.

Between March 2020 and February 2021, Sligo County Council's total expenditure was €305,784, with 158 people using the service, while 97 people availed of the services provided by Wexford County Council at a cost of €266,031. Cavan County Council's total expenditure on accommodating 29 people between March 2020 and March 2021 was €68,494.94.

Leitrim County Council paid a total of €27,980 from the period March 2020 to date for temporary emergency accommodation for nine homeless households, totalling 12 people.

Pat Doyle, chief executive of Peter McVerry Trust, says there is a "clear obligation" on local authorities to provide shelter for people in need. The organisation has provided five additional Covid-19 services and received support to secure a 100-room hotel "to ensure that we could offer to cocoon vulnerable people in homelessness during the pandemic".

"Clearly, no one wants to be spending this amount of money on emergency shelter and we would much prefer this money to be added to the spending on prevention and housing solutions," he says.

The Covid-19 crisis has been a "major challenge" for homeless services, said Focus Ireland's Mike Allen, adding that the system still relies on dormitory accommodation "to a very large extent".

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