16 December 1999 Edition

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No Room at the Inn

``Dublin's housing crisis has become a nightmare,'' says Dublin Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke. People are still finding themselves in hostel accommodation with young children, where fathers must make alternative arrangements, or in B&B accommodation where mothers with kids, without money, must walk the streets all day. They are waiting 18 months to two years for a place to live. Landlords have been let use all kinds of bully boy tactics.''

``There are 2,500 people walking the streets in Dublin, sleeping rough, in doorways, in cardboard boxes, on balconies in the flats. In addition, there are at least 6,000 to 7,000 people who aren't even registered because it's pointless. There is no accommodation. One in five of the people who sleep in doorways, according to an ESRI Homeless Initiative survey last September, is under 20 years old.''

At last week's Dublin Council meeting, the Sinn Féin councillors successfully proposed that Junior Minister Bobby Molloy, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal, address the City Council and announce his plans to deal with the crisis.

So last Wednesday, Molloy held a press conference, with the council and the Estern Health Board, to announce the good news that there were to be 112 new hostel places for Dublin's homeless, and a £5 million two-year plan, already announced in the budget, for two separate hostels for those with drug and alcohol addiction problems.

City Manager John Fitzgerald, added that the joint programme was part of a `zero tolerance' approach to homelessness. ``How dare they,'' exclaims Christy, ``when thousands of homeless people have been in this city for at least the past five years, despite our endless resolutions in the council to recognise the seriousness of the crisis. ``

The Corporation is appointing `outreach' services to target people sleeping rough on the street, including `resettlement officers' aiming to move people to `longer term and appropriate facilities', and `co-ordinators', who are to be appointed to implement `anti-ghettoisation' policies.

``These new job prospects look like little else than jobs to ship the homeless out of the city altogether, and allow rural B&B owners to enjoy some of the £18 per person, per night, subsidies available from the government.

Christy, supported by the newly elected Sinn Féin councillors, has initiated measures in the council, for Dublin's North Inner City, to tackle the problem.

``We have called on church leaders of all denominations to enter into negotiations with the council for the release of church lands. We're talking about properties like Clonliffe College, Drumcondra, or the huge mansion and grounds, belonging to the Salinas Order in Crumlin. In the immediate term, emergency hostel accommodation, with decent facilities, has got to be provided, for the thousands who are homeless, on the streets. There is no acceptable reason why this hasn't been done.''

In the longer term, Christy is convinced, things are changing.

There is the North Inner City Integrated Area Plan (NICIAP), for which £100 million funding came on stream last June. The plan includes the demolition of Mountain View Court, Landon House, St. Judes Gardens, and the refurbishment of Liberty House, and the building of town houses with gardens front and back. St Joseph's Mansions is to be detenanted, with housing and small industrial units built in conjunction with the St. Pancras Housing Association.

The Community College in Sean McDermott Street, opening in the New Year, will provide educational resources for the whole area, including sports, recreation, adult education. Money is set aside to provide child care and to train and employ local people to run the centres. ``These are crucial in what is a redevelopment of the whole area in terms of housing, jobs, training and education,'' says Christy. ``Builders are now compelled under EU directives to take on local people, to train people in the skills through the Local Employment Services (LES) and to guarantee the provision of long-term jobs. The days of builders providing a few odd security jobs are long gone.''

``The NICIAP has been possible because of consistent and strong organisation of the whole community, through the Inner City Organisation Network, (ICON), and through the concerned parents' activities of the previous decade, when communities began to organise themselves and to realise their power. None of this would have happened without the involvement of community organisations.

``The development of Sheriff Street flats, where now you've women's centres, community centres, FAS, and housing development, shows the way. When Harry Crosbie, well known `redeveloper' in the City, said on the Late Late show one evening last June that `the people of Sheriff Street eat their young', the community marched on his door demanding an apology. It shows how things have moved on.''

``Meanwhile, the conditions in emergency accommodation have got to be changed right now,'' says Christy. ``Nelson Street was a disaster waiting to happen.'' Last month there was a fire in a house in NIC's Nelson Street, where 35 people were living. The windows, front and back, had mesh screens, the back door had a steel grill. ``It was a miracle that people weren't burnt to death, it was only because of the response of the residents themselves. The house was packed out, even children. I personally stood with a 10-day-old baby in my arms. We've learned nothing from the Stardust.''

``As a result, the council has now agreed to what I have been fighting to get over the years, an inspectorate of all emergency accommodation. A section has been set up between the Corpo, the EHB, the Fire Department and the Corporation's Planning department, where all emergency accommodation has to be inspected. It's a beginning.

``This has now to be extended to private rented accommodation. Many landlords and properties aren't registered, and their tenants have no rights. 100% rent increases, at a moment's notice, are not unusual and all standards of accommodation, health and safety have been breached.

``The Inland Revenue has to work with the Corporation to ensure the registration of properties. If the law does not allow the Local Authorities to enforce the registration requirement or the imposition of fines on landlords who do not register, then it is simply a day's work by the Environment minister to introduce a statutory instrument to correct the anomaly.

``Once we have a register, then standards can be enforced, inspections can be carried out, tenants' rights protected, and a control put on rent increases and evictions. If there was the political will, it could be done in a week. There isn't.

``If the political will existed, the will to work with the communities, Dublin could become a nice place for everyone to live in.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1