Latest: Any attempts to 'normalise' homelessness are 'insulting' - SVP President

Update 7.50pm: The President of the St Vincent de Paul has described any attempts to normalise homelessness as 'insulting'.

Kiearan Stafford's words come after controversial comments by the head of a Housing Agency which suggested that homelessness was a normal part of society rather than a crisis situation.

In recent days the Taoiseach has also come in for criticism from campaigners for his comments that homelessness here is not high by international standards.

Kiearan Stafford from the SVP says life is very tough for families in emergency accommodation and that should never be forgotten.

"You have great mothers and parents supporting their kids in extreme situations ... and it is absolutely and simply wrong.'

Meanwhile, this evening the Director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson, said she would not be standing down.

Ms Gleeson has been facing calls for her resignation, after she claimed rough sleepers were homeless because of years of "bad behaviour".

She's apologised, but says she was trying to highlight the complex needs of homeless people.

Homelessness campaigner Fr. Peter McVerry says Ms Gleeson has outdated ideas about people who sleep rough.

"It has nothing to do with bad behaviour or pathology within the homeless person. Homelessness is predominantly a consequence of inadequate government policies."

Update 6.15pm: Homeless crisis 'a lot worse if it wasn't for the Eileen Gleesons of this world' says Housing Minister

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has defended Eileen Gleeson's comments at last night's Dublin City Council meeting.

"This problem would be a lot worse if it wasn't for the Eileen Gleesons of this world, the Focuses, and the Peter McVerry Trust and the Simon Community. The key thing is that we all work together."

On Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1 this evening, Mary Wilson asked the Minister if there is, as some in the opposition have claimed, a co-ordinated policy of down-playing the crisis in housing and 'normalising' the levels of homelessness in this country.

"Not everything that we are doing is unsuccessful," he said.

"If we look at Eileen Gleeson, who is an expert, who is on the frontlines and that's where she gets her expertise from... we have to listen to experts. Sometimes they'll say things that are uncomfortable to hear but that doesn't mean that we can ignore them.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy

"All she was saying is that the outcomes for these people are better for these people when we coordinate our efforts. It's not to say don't give that cup of soup, don't give spare change to help someone who comes asking for that help.

"We do better work when we work together, that is the point that she was making essentially. Sometimes people may use the wrong choice of words."

When asked what he does when he passes somebody that is homeless, the Minister said there are different ways of helping people.

"You will never stop a person's better angels, or better nature from wanting to reach out and share compassion and help someone. And it's not wrong to want to do that and it's not wrong to do that. That's not the point that Eileen was making," he said.

Minister Murphy said there is an end in sight as housing and homelessness are a priority for the Government.

"We have solutions that are working and will help," he said.

"Hubs is one example that is helping families out of hotels where they shouldn't be into hubs which are much safer, more secure temporary supports. We already know from the hubs programme that we are moving families, much more families, into secure accommodation."

Listen to the interview in full here:

Update 5.18pm: Homeless charity calls on director of Dublin Region Homeless Executive to resign

A homeless charity is calling on the director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to resign.

Speaking at a recent committee meeting Eileen Gleeson said it takes years of bad behaviour for someone to become homeless – saying it isn’t the behaviour of you and me.

Eileen Gleeson added that it didn’t help when unauthorised volunteers give rough sleepers food or shelter.

She has since moved to clarify the comments saying she was trying to highlight the complex needs of homeless people.

But campaigner Erica Flemming - who was homeless for a time – was very annoyed by her comments.

"I think someone in a position such as hers should chose her words wisely."

Anthony Flynn from Inner City Helping Homeless said he believes she should step down.

"The comments ... show a clear lack of compassion as regards to her position as Director of Homeless Services.

Meanwhile, speaking on RTE Drive Time in the last hour Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy denied recent statements on the homeless issue from colleagues demonstrated a hardening line on the issue and reiterated the governmnet's commitment to do everything possible to help those affected by the issue.

Earlier: Director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson has said that she regrets the controversial comments she made about homeless people.

Eileen Gleeson said "ad hoc" volunteers feeding rough sleepers and handing out tents can't solve years of "bad behaviour''. She was speaking yesterday before a committee to talk about homeless services.

Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said he was "absolutely furious" at Ms Gleeson's comments on homelessness, calling them "an insult to many homeless people".

Fr McVerry said her comments that many people do not become homeless overnight, were incorrect.

Ms Gleeson also said rough sleepers would not be camping on the banks of the Royal Canal if volunteers were not "going down there to feed them".

She added that they are not being linked into services when they are being helped by people trying to do the right thing.

"When somebody becomes homeless it doesn’t happen overnight; it takes years of bad behaviour probably and it takes as long again to work them back into the system," she said.

Today, she said she could have phrased what she was trying to say better, but was trying to highlight the long term problems facing homeless people.

"I regret it in the way I used (the terms)," she said. "The reasons why people become homeless are complex."

Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke, Fr McVerry criticised Ms Gleeson for her comments.

"The majority of people do become homeless overnight," Fr McVerry argued. "They become homeless because the landlord evicts them, because they cannot afford to pay the rent or because the landlord says they’re selling their house or because the banks have re-possessed the landlord’s house because the landlord hasn’t paid their mortgage."

Fr McVerry said Eileen Gleeson has said that they want people to engage with the services, but he said "the services are awful and inadequate" and that "much of the emergency accommodation is so awful that people won't go into it".

Fr Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre also weighed in on the comments made by Ms Gleeson.

"To me the housing crisis and people sleeping on the streets is still a huge problem," Fr Crowley told Sean O'Rourke.

Fr Crowley spoke of those ringing the freephone number and constantly being told to call back later. When they are told there are no beds for them, Fr Kevin asked: "Is that the way to treat people coming on to the winter?"

Ms Gleeson re-joined the show to respond, saying: "We're all on the one side, all trying to do the same thing."

She said the ultimate aim was to get the person into permanent housing and she simply wanted to make sure the right structures were put in place to enable this.

"It’s not perfect, it’s not ideal and they’ll agree with me that it’s complex and individuals are complex," she said.

Ms Gleeson went on to say that we need to always treat somebody that is homeless with "dignity and respect".

Volunteer organisation Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) have also responded to Ms Gleeson's comments calling them unacceptable.

"The wording used by Ms Gleeson were highly controversial and damning to the homeless community," said ICHH CEO Anthony Flynn.

"It seems that the order of the week is to insult homeless people rather than target the actual problem. Lack of policy implementation and the continuous failure from the state have led to the increase in homelessness.

"What we need are proactive reactions to this crisis, not every department attempting to down play the facts."

The group claimed the comments were an attempt to deflect attention from the inadequacies of the state-run bodies.

ICHH Director Clare O'Connor added: "Victim blaming those sleeping rough and the voluntary groups that help them is inexcusable. Housing policy and the lack of housing protections is the biggest cause of homelessness today.

"The orchestrated narrative by government and state organisations to deflect from this and normalise the situation is an attempt to sway public perceptions of the people that are homeless and we cannot and will not allow this to happen."

Ms Gleeson’s comments sparked outrage among many people with several taking to Twitter to comment.

Some were so outraged that they called for Eileen Gleeson’s resignation.

Ms Gleeson, Fr Crowley and Fr McVerry all agreed that social housing was the best solution to the issue.

You can listen to the full discussion on Today with Sean O'Rourke below:


 

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