Wednesday 25 April 2018

Residents occupy hostel in protest at closure - 'We’re not leaving until there is somewhere safe to go'

Stock photo. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Stock photo. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Meadhbh McGrath

A severely visually impaired homeless woman has spoken of her fears over the impending closure of an emergency homeless shelter.

John’s Lane West hostel in Dublin’s south inner city, which is owned by Focus Ireland and operated by the Peter McVerry Trust, will shut its doors today to facilitate redevelopment into long-term social housing units.

Rosemary Hughes, who is visually impaired and has a guide dog, has been living in John’s Lane West for three months, and said she was told she would be provided with further accommodation following the closure of the hostel.

“They’re closing down this hostel and they have nowhere to put us. There were 43 people here last night and they literally have nowhere to put us,” she told RTE Radio One’s Liveline.

Rosemary, along with a dozen other homeless people and a number of housing activists, is occupying the hostel in protest over the precarious situation of the former residents.

She said that she had been offered a couple of other places to say, but that they had been inaccessible for someone with a visual impairment, or offered only one night’s shelter at a time.

Read More: Number of homeless families in Dublin soars by over a third

“We’re not leaving until there is somewhere suitable and safe to go. There have been a couple of inappropriate places, one had three flights of stairs with forty four steps. I have a guide dog, I’m visually impaired, and I had a bad ankle injury at the time.

“Here, I’m on the ground floor, I’m in my own room, and it’s accessible for someone who is visually impaired, because they don’t have anywhere else that is accessible for someone who is visually impaired.

“I don’t mind them closing down this hostel, but what’s more important is that there are no beds,” she added.

Prior to becoming homeless, Rosemary had been living in a caravan on an unofficial halting site for five years with her former partner.

She had lived on the street for many years before that, and developed problems with her sight as a teenager.

“I’ve been like this since I was in my teens. I have a condition called macular atrophy, it affects my central vision first and it gets progressively worse over time. There isn’t a treatment for it,” said Rosemary.

“I still have light perception in my left eye and I can still make out colour with my right eye, but I can’t read or anything like that independently.”

She has also struggled to find a place to stay with will accommodate her assistance dog, Kia.

For the past two months, Rosemary has shared a room in the hostel with Caroline (20), a Polish woman who found herself homeless for the first time this year.

“I’ve only been homeless for two months. I have no family here, I’m originally from Poland. I grew up here in Dun Laoghaire, I went to school here, but my family abandoned me,” Caroline told Liveline.

“I’m just really worried because none of us have any beds for tonight.”

The women claim they were guaranteed that safe accommodation would be sourced for residents following the closure of the hostel, but they are still waiting for somewhere to stay.

Read More: TDs call for 50,000 social housing units in next four years

“We kept asking, where are the beds? Where are they going to put me? It’s been a month and today they told us sorry, those beds don’t exist.

“I don’t have anywhere to go. Once they lock this place, we’ll most likely have to get our sleeping bags and sleep on the streets, there’s nowhere else,” she said.

Caroline explained that she has been staying in the hostel every night since she became hopeless, and tonight will mark her first night sleeping rough.

“It’s my first night I’ve been homeless. The worst parts of being homeless – there are lots of things: being put into a hostel with people who are using drugs when you’re clean, being scared of your things being stolen, having no privacy or security, and now we’re worried we’ll be put on the streets and have to fend for ourselves,” she said.

“How am I supposed to go school if I’m being moved from place to place? I’m attempting to do a course right now, I’m hoping to get my Leaving Cert done, but how can I go to it if I don’t have a place to put my head down at night?"

A spokesperson for Dublin Region Homeless Executive told that the hostel will be refurbished into 31 new housing units, and that alternative accommodation for the current residents of John's Lane West "continues to be secured with Dublin City Council Homeless Central Placement Service and the providers Focus Ireland, Peter Mc Verry Trust."

"Alternative emergency bed placement provision has been put in place for the service users affected," they said.

"Dublin City Council wishes to underscore that there have been long-term plans for this building and the service provided at Johns Lane West was an interim provision."

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