At Monday’s meeting of the Drogheda Municipal District, Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne expressed her shock at the results of this years Rough Sleeper Count.
This count took place unannounced by Louth County Council at 2.30am on Wednesday 15th November in both Dundalk and Drogheda and no persons were found to be sleeping rough.
Following Cllr Byrne raising this issue at the start of the meeting and asking questions regarding the zero count, which sparked wide debate, Senior Executive Officer Aoife Lawlor confirmed to the meeting that she herself had participated in this Rough Sleeper count and she could categorically say that there was not one person sleeping rough on these streets between the hours of 2.30am and 5.30am.
Rough Sleepers in Drogheda earlier this year
Cllr Byrne says ” To be honest I am shocked at this result returning at a count of zero, most people in this room knows of somebody somewhere sleeping rough in this town, a small number of people it may be, but is still a number.
“My understanding of this rough sleeper count taking place in the first place is to get a clear assessment of the problem, understand the magnitude of it, and allow the local authority to make provisions to provide effective and safe accommodation to these people to help deal with the issue.
“A zero count on the night, in my view, does not portray a clear image of the situation.”
Cllr Byrne stressed that whilst she was shocked by the result she did not doubt the merits of it, but made the suggestion that perhaps the local authority should liaise with the public reps in each area in advance of future rough sleeper counts to be aware of the hotspots known to the members and to include them on their route going forward.
“Let us all share our knowledge and work together to try bring that number down from the handful it probably is, to a realistic zero.
At the September Council meeting of Drogheda Municipal District, Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne queried the monthly homelessness report produced by the local authority.
Joanna Byrne pointed out “that again this month there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are presenting as homeless in the Drogheda district, but I don’t find the report accurate and it is not a true reflection of the current homelessness situation in the town.”
Cllr Byrne said “I note that this month there has been a decrease in numbers presenting as homeless in both the Ardee and Dundalk districts and a significant increase in the numbers in Drogheda. But even at that, to be frank, I don’t find this report worth the paper it’s printed on. I can walk you over this town right now and show you several people sleeping in doorways. These are not irregular patterns, they are consistently sleeping in the same places, some of them for months now.”
Homeless in Drogheda
These comments were met with severe opposition from Paddy Donnelly, Director of Services with LCC who refuted the fact that this report wasn’t worth reading and stressed the work that goes into compiling it.
Cllr Byrne came back and said that whilst she meant no disrespect to the staff in the housing department, “the awareness needs to be there that the homeless crisis in Drogheda is much bigger than the local authority’s report portrays, be it down to the fact that maybe some of these people are not presenting themselves to the authority as homeless, or whatever the case may be, but the reality is that this is a growing epidemic and needs to be addressed.
“With the week that is in it and us having three homeless people die nationally, be under no illusion that these are not just big city issues, it won’t be long until a tragedy like that darkens our doors.”
Sinn Féin Cllr Joanna Byrne last week asked for clarification from the SEO for Housing at Drogheda’s Municipal District meeting as to why the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government’s November Homelessness report shows practically double the number of homeless adults than that released from Louth County Council for the same period.
Having not got any satisfactory explanations for said question the Sinn Féin team again raised the query yesterday at the full council monthly meeting, to which the Director of Services for housing had no answer.
The governments homeless report states for the November period there were 116 homeless adults in the North East, 112 of them in Louth. This is without factoring in the number of children homeless. Louth County Councils combined figure was 64. Even at that both reports do not factor in rough sleepers, or the hidden homeless: those people sleeping on sofas and floors of family and friends.
Cllr Byrne says: “There is a huge discrepancy between the information being provided to us by the governments housing department and Louth County Councils housing department. It is imperative we get the correct information relayed to us so we get a clear view of how the situation stands. We need a true reflection of the homeless situation in the county and I will be pursuing this with the council officials until we get clarity on it”.
Sinn Féin Louth and East Meath TD Gerry Adams has expressed his “deep concern at the significant increase in the levels of homelessness in Louth and the North East.”
Teachta Adams said: “The Homelessness Report for September 2016 which was published this week by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government has revealed a significant increase in the levels of homelessness in Louth and the North East.
In September 2015 there were 38 persons designated as homeless in the North East, including Louth. The Homeless report for September this year reveals that there are now 62 homeless adults of whom 59 live in Louth.
In September 2015 there were no families homeless in the region. There are now nine families listed as homeless eight of whom are single parent families and there are 12 children designated as homeless in the North East.
Across the state there are 4283 adults, 1173 families and 2426 children sleeping in emergency accommodation in September. That represents a significant increase on the previous month and on this time last year.
These statistics do not include the hidden homeless. Those citizens who are sleeping on floors or sofa’s in the homes of family and friends and who have been refused access to emergency accommodation despite having no home of their own.
The reality is that every day more and more people are presenting as homeless. Home repossessions, vacant possession of buy-to-let properties, spiralling rents and family breakdown are the key reasons.
Despite this the Government has refused to act on rent certainty or home repossession. They are also failing to provide sufficient long term housing through an aggressive programme of purchase of vacant units or to speed up the delivery process for social housing.”
Teachta Adams said:
“The situation in Louth is clearly deteriorating and the responsibility for this lies with the government which is failing to take the urgent action needed to keep people in their homes and to provide housing for those trapped in emergency accommodation.”
At the last Municipal District of Drogheda Council Meeting, the rough sleeper count which was conducted on the night of 30th November came back as zero.
Councillor Kenneth Flood said “the definition of a ‘rough sleeper’ is so narrowly defined it almost renders the term meaningless.”
The definition of a ‘rough sleeper’ is ‘people sleeping, or bedded down, in the open air such as on the streets or in doorways, parks or bus shelters; people in buildings or other places not designed for habitation (such as barns, sheds, car parks, cars, derelict boats or stations).’
Cllr Flood pointed out that ‘because a rough sleeper on 30th November which was quite a cold night, crawled into a derelict building for some degree of shelter from the elements, they are not counted. This is simply not a true or accurate reflection of the situation.”
Councillor Flood also pointed out that he didn’t want the public “thinking this figure meant there wasn’t a homeless problem in the area. This count simply covered the people within that narrow definition, they were not referring to people who are ‘homeless’.”