Cllr Joanna Byrne: Ad-hoc approach to emergency accommodation is failing our Homeless

At this month’s Municipal District of Drogheda meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne raised concerns about Louth County Council’s system to assist those seeking emergency accommodation.

Cllr Byrne, who has proved a strong advocate for the homeless in Drogheda, expressed major reservations about the process a homeless person has to go through to secure emergency accommodation.

Cllr Byrne also suggested some changes, which were dismissed on the night by the Senior Executive Officer for Housing Aoife Lawlor.

Cllr Byrne said “At present, somebody who is experiencing homelessness in Drogheda presents to the Homeless Officer, gets approved for assistance and if there are no beds available with the NGO’s who provide Homeless facilities in this town, they are then told to find a B&B and it will be paid for. This is all well and good until somebody can’t find a B&B, then where do they go, onto the streets?”

She went on to say “I have had many people present to my clinics in this distressing situation and I have spent numerous hours calling B&B’s who nine times out of ten seem to be fully booked when they hear it’s to house a homeless individual or family. There is, without a doubt, a stigma surrounding people in this unfortunate situation and there is a reluctance to take these people in. If a County Councillor cannot secure a booking for them what hope do they have themselves?”

Councillor Byrne asked if the local authority would consider establishing a link with some B&Bs, enough with a capacity to cater for the numbers presenting as homeless and requiring emergency accommodation in B&Bs, so that at any given stage the Homeless Officer would know what beds would be available to the local authority and have somewhere concrete to settle this person in until alternative solutions were made available – this suggestion was immediately dismissed with the Senior Executive Officer quoting “too many liabilities involved in such an arrangement”.

Cllr Byrne was deeply dissatisfied with this response and concluded in stating that “facing homelessness and a night on the streets is everybody’s worst nightmare, without the added pressure of ringing or calling to 10-15 B&B’s in some cases before securing a bed. This is an area the local authority is majorly lacking in, sitting back with a sporadic ad-hoc approach is failing our homeless and adding much more unnecessary pressure to an already daunting scenario. Some sort of legitimate system needs to be put in place especially as presentations of this nature are growing higher by the week.”

Cllr Joanna Byrne slams Louth County Council for not making Homelessness a priority

Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has once again slammed Louth County Council for not taking the Homelessness situation in the County seriously enough.

Cllr Byrne was speaking at this month’s Council meeting and said “I want to express my deep dissatisfaction at the reporting of Homelessness from this local authority. We are sitting here looking at a Homelessness report that has not been updated since January. It has been just copied and pasted for the last two months.”

Councillors receive a monthly report giving statistics on the county situation but the report at this month’s meeting appeared to be the same as the January report.

Cllr Byrne then listed a number of what she seen as ‘failures’ on the issue of homelessness. Cllr Byrne said “This is at a time where we have had no Rough Sleeper Count done in the South of the County in 16 months, at a time where the Homelessness section of Louth County Council’s website which provides vital contact information for those who need it has been inaccessible for a month, at a time where the executive of this Council is defying the will of the members who are calling for additional homeless facilities to cater for those suffering with addictions.”

“I don’t know if this copy and paste effort is down to incompetence, laziness or blatant manipulation of the information being conveyed to the members, but regardless of which of the three, it is it is not acceptable.”

These claims were met with cries of dismay from the top table and Director of Services for Housing Paddy Donnelly replied stating he ‘took great exception’ to Cllr Byrne’s remarks. Cllr Byrne concluded in saying” There is no accountability here and in my opinion Homelessness needs to become more of a priority for this Local Authority and as a matter of urgency!”

These claims were met with cries of dismay from the top table and Director of Services for Housing Paddy Donnelly replied stating he ‘took great exception’ to Cllr Byrne’s remarks.

Cllr Byrne concluded in saying” There is no accountability here and in my opinion Homelessness needs to become more of a priority for this Local Authority and as a matter of urgency!”

Cllr Joanna Byrne: Rebuilding Ireland Housing Loans reopened

Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has welcomed confirmation she received from the Director of Services for Housing In Louth that the Local Authority have recommenced appointments with applicants for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loans.

Cllr Byrne also received confirmation that applications will be assessed and processed on the same criteria as the last round of applicants. The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme, which assists middle to low income families who are first time buyers and have been refused mortgages by banks is the only scheme available aimed at assisting people in lower wages brackets to be able to buy their forever home.

Cllr Byrne has stated “The recent instruction from the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, for Louth County Council to cease issuing these loans was a major blow to many people who might see this as their only option. There is a huge cohort of people in this county caught in a position of earning too much to be eligible for Social Housing, but not enough to be considered for a mortgage. With an unsustainable rise in house prices, and no affordable housing schemes available, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is the only other alternative, it is imperative that this remains open for applications for constituents in this County.”

Cllr Joanna Byrne: Extra Hostel Needed for People with Addictions

Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has welcomed the passing of her Drogheda Council motion calling for additional homeless services to be provided in Drogheda to facilitate those with entrenched Alcohol and Drug issues.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Byrne said whilst she recognised the phenomenal work Louth County Council and their Homeless liaison team do, she felt there was “an over-reliance” on the NGO’s in the town at times.

Cllr Byrne said “Louth is experiencing much higher presentations of homelessness than our neighbouring counties, but I fear this is not a true reflection of how prevalent this issue is as many homeless people do not meet the criteria and rules of current solutions offered by the Local Authority, mainly down to battling addictions and therefore ending up on the streets. They are not included in any figures or homeless reports.”

In a written response to her motion, Cllr Byrne was told that a multi-agency review for a low threshold hostel in Drogheda has now been listed as an action in the draft Homeless Action Plan 2018-2020, and if the need is confirmed in the review to be undertaken by the HSE and the Local Authority, steps will be taken to open one. Cllr Byrne pushed this with the Director of Service for Housing, Paddy Donnelly, asking how long it would take. “This is urgent, it can’t be allowed to drag on for years.”

Mr. Donnelly advised that the Council recognised the need and assured Cllr Byrne this would be a priority in 2019.

Cllr Joanna Byrne express her thanks for the cross-party support for her motion and re-iterated the fact that “there are people sleeping rough in the doorways and parks in Drogheda and this is solely down to them battling addictions  like alcohol or drugs.”

She added “The current set-up of just a ‘dry facility’ in this town is no longer adequate, we need to be broad-minded enough to recognise Drogheda is evolving and so is our homeless situation, we also need a ‘wet facility’ to ensure we are meeting the needs of everybody experiencing homelessness, and can no longer leave anybody to sleep on our streets. If they have a roof over their heads they can then begin to access other services to help them with their other issues but this is the first step. A roof is a basic human right and the onus is on us as a Local Authority to provide that!”

 

The actual text of the motion said:

“This Council calls for a Homeless Hostel in Drogheda to assist Homeless people with entrenched Alcohol & Drug issues.

We recognise these addictions are significant contributing factors to making these people homeless and at present we do not have the provisions in place to alleviate these issues and assist those in our town who need it.”

 

Figures from the Department of Housing for October showed:

133 people accessed emergency accommodation in the whole of the North east Region

124 of these were in Louth

7 were in Cavan

2 were in Monaghan

Joanna Byrne Selected for Drogheda Urban in 2019 Elections

Sitting Councillor Joanna Byrne has been selected to run in the 2019 Local Government Elections for the constituency of Drogheda Urban.

Joanna was nominated by the Chair of the Bobby Sands Cumann Hughie McShane who said “I am very proud to stand here in front of you all to nominate Joanna. The Cumann has come a long way and we now have Imelda Munster as a TD who we are very proud of and Joanna who has been an outstanding councilor and we know she will continue to be just that. Joanna brought a fresh approach and a new enthusiasm to the Cumann when she joined it and is always ready for a challenge. She is a strong defender of the rights for all, following in the footsteps of Imelda. I am very proud of them both.”

Joanna accepted the nomination and paid tribute to Hughie who she described as the “driving force behind the cumann. The last 2 years have been a whirlwind and there

The team with Hughie McShane far right

have been plenty of highs and lows and challenges but it has been a great experience and I couldn’t have done it without Kenneth (Flood) and Imelda and more recently David (Saurin). Imelda keeps us a very tight team and her precedence on the Council is so appreciated. She taught us that we can debate an issue but we go into the chamber as a unit and we stand as one.”

Joanna also paid tribute to her Mam Martina “she is always by my side and the support

Joanna and her Mam, Martina

I get from her and my siblings is unbelievable. She is doing work that no-one else sees, out in all weathers leafleting and supporting me and guiding me. I appreciate that Mam and of course, she looks after me which can be the biggest job of all.”

Joanna also welcomed Tom Cunningham to the Drogheda team from Mid-Louth.

Imelda Munster TD rounded the evening off by thanking the “grassroots members who a the ones that have helped the party grow from strength to strength by talking to people and communities and relaying that back to the reps. I have always said that if we lead, people will follow but we have to provide that leadership. We need to stay true to who we are, we hold officials to account for the betterment of our communities, we are always pushing for the best interests of the people. We can’t fail if we speak for the people. Despite the challenges thrown at us, the attempted isolation of us by other parties and large sections of the media, just look at what we have achieved. People aren’t stupid, they see through all their dirty tricks. We started with 5 Cumann members and we worked hard over the years and people see that.

“People will be proud to vote Sinn Féin, they know we are not afraid to speak out, they know that their voice will be heard through us. The hard work starts now though. We are a unit on Louth County Council, we are committed and true and we will build and build and continue to build after that.”

The new line up so far in Drogheda