Monday 21 August 2017

Homeless couple with five young kids raises issues concerning duties of the state, judge says

(stock image)
(stock image)

Aodhan O'Faolain

A HOMELESS family of seven living mostly in one hotel bedroom are raising “very significant wide-ranging ” issues concerning the duties of local authorities and the State to homeless people in acute housing need, a High Court judge has said.

The unemployed couple and five children aged up to seven, including a baby born into homelessness, have been in ten temporary accommodations in four years and in their current hotel since February.

They claim the hotel is not “an adequate home” and fails to meet South Dublin County Council’s statutory responsibilities to them.

If the court finds the council has met its responsibilities under the Housing Acts, they want the court to find the Minister for Housing has failed to vindicate their rights, particularly those of the children, under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights Act.

The Minister, they claim, has failed to ensure families in acute housing need are not forced to live long-term in conditions “wholly incompatible with the normal enjoyment of family life”.

The Minister, they also allege, has not considered adequately or at all the educational, social, emotional, psychological and physical development needs of the children and is obliged to ensure the family get self-catering accommodation.

While the family have been allocated two bedrooms in the hotel, they, for reasons including the rooms are not adjoining and the youth of the children, are effectively living in one room since February.

Their claims against the council include such accommodation is unsuitable for long-term living, does not meet the Council’s obligations and fails to vindicate their constitutional and ECHR rights.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said on Thursday, given the evidence the family’s health and welfare is compromised, the case is urgent and raises significant wide-ranging issues.

However, the council and Minster were entitled to time to address amendments made just this week to the family’s case.

The case was initially brought only against the council but Cormac O Dulachain SC, instructed by solicitor David Joyce, said on Wednesday, given the council’s position on its statutory duties, they want the Minister made a party and to amend their proceedings.

The judge made the necessary directions and adjourned the case with a view to a full hearing later this month on a date to be fixed. The application for leave for judicial review will proceed via a “telescoped hearing” – involving the leave application and full judicial review being heard together.

An independent social worker consultant who assessed the family last month said their living conditions in a small stuffy hotel room would “almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the children’s development and the parents' ability to provide a stable family environment”.

The children's health problems included asthma and various infections, some exhibited behavioural issues, the oldest had missed school due to frequent moves and being located some distance from their school, and the parents suffer stress-related illness.

The fact they are not permitted cook means they eat a lot of fast food and it was “concerning” baby’s bottles and foods were not allowed to be kept in the room. There is no nearby park and the children are not allowed use public areas of the hotel to play.

The parents, both from the South Dublin County Council area and in a relationship for a number of years, have three children together. The two oldest children are the mother’s.

They were designated homeless in early 2016 and are on the Council's housing list. 

They were evicted from other homeless hotel accommodation at an hour’s notice three days before Christmas last, days after the youngest was born. The Council has alleged they were subject of "multiple warnings" regarding their behaviour and a "credible threat" was made to the general manager of that hotel on December 21.

Mr Joyce said the family got no opportunity to address the complaints and claimed the Council breached its duties by revoking their accommodation before identifying other alternative accommodation. 

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