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Tuesday 23 January 2018

WATCH: A look inside one of Dublin's 'family hubs' for homeless families

'We’re hoping families will be rapidly rehoused and we’re aiming to have an average stay of between 3-6 months'

Cillian Sherlock

This building in Dublin has been repurposed as a 'family hub' for up to five homeless families to use as temporary emergency accommodation.

This Independent.ie footage shows inside the Swords centre, which is the third hub operated by homelessness charity Peter McVerry Trust.

The charity is planning to opened a fourth hub in September.

The Dublin region is set to have 19 such hubs, operated by different charities and private owners, by the end of the year.

The hubs are described as "temporary emergency accommodation" and come in response to the rising number of homeless families and the ongoing housing crisis.

"It’s temporary emergency accommodation. At the end of the day we had a situation where we never had emergency accommodation designed for families because we never had homeless families. So, because we didn’t have that we were pushing them into hotels and B&Bs," Head of Communications for Peter McVerry Trust, Francis Doherty, told Independent.ie.

Pictured: One of Respond's two family hubs in High Park and Tallaght
Pictured: One of Respond's two family hubs in High Park and Tallaght

"Nobody wanted that and it got to the stage where it was just a huge number of people so obviously there was a response to try and do something better.

"The reason we need those is because we don’t have social or affordable accommodation for people to move on to. So the best interim measure between hotel/B&B and social or affordable housing is family hubs."

Families living in the so-called hubs will have their own self-contained bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as access to shared living areas including a kitchen and dining area, large outdoor play area and picnic tables.

"This is their space. It’s designed for them rather than being thrown into a hotel, living in a small room, where there’s a stigma attached to what their situation is," Mr Doherty added.

Pictured: One of Respond's two family hubs in High Park and Tallaght
Pictured: One of Respond's two family hubs in High Park and Tallaght

The rent charged is based on the families' ability to pay.

"There’s a standard fee, so everyone in emergency accommodation pays based on their ability to pay. We operate a policy where as a homeless provide nobody is going to be evicted if they can’t pay.

"That charge is based on the fact that people have an income from social welfare and things like that and we incorporate that into a financial plan so that when they do move on to private rental accommodation it’s not a massive shock that they’re starting to pay out money."

The Trust also offer other services in their comprehensive support plan based on the families’ specific needs such as nutritional plans, financial planning, and homework help.

"We’re making sure that they’re getting everything that they should be getting from links to GPs and medical cards to transport to school."

There is a five year lease on the building from Fingal County Council.

"We sincerely hope that we don’t need it as a hub for that time and there are other uses the building can be put to, be it after-care for kids coming out of the care system or something else," he added.

Mr Doherty said there is a 50-50 split on operators of the hubs between charities and private owners.

The hub has only just opened and the Trust is awaiting referrals from Fingal County Council, who provided the lease for the building.

He said one family has already taken up residence in the hub but within ten days had found a private rental solution which they will move into in two weeks.

"We’re hoping families will be rapidly rehoused and we’re aiming to have an average stay of between 3-6 months. The bottom line is out as quick as possible. Everything is based on available housing and that’s why we’re keeping pressure on the Minister and Department of Housing for social housing and affordable housing," he said.

"New families are presenting with homelessness all the time. The challenge is to make sure that we’re getting families in the hubs out to free up beds so that we’re not going back to relying on hotels and B&BS  We don’t want to get to a point where we have to open more hubs, what we want is a throughout," he added.

Staff

He added that there are keyworkers and staff on site 24/7 to provide support and assistance to the families.

"Having private operators is less than ideal but it is probably reflective that there are only so many homelessness organisations with the capacity to continue to operate new services," he said.

"The private operators won’t be able to provide the same level of support for families and I think that’s the reason the Homeless Executive has asked the likes of Barnardos to come in and do drop-in supports like homework clubs. Those facilities are on the bigger end of the scale and I’m sure the Homeless Executive will be closely watching any issues that arise."

Other charities operating hubs include Respond Voluntary Housing Association and Crosscare.

A representative for Respond said their two family hubs in High Park and Tallaght have the capacity for 39 families.

Bríd McGrath said they have had 17 homeless families move on to their own homes already.

"The Family Hub is our humanitarian response to address the needs of homeless families in Ireland today. This is interim accommodation – with the aim that families leave Respond in a better position than when they arrived and move into homes of their own," said Respond CEO Declan Dunne.

In relation to the High Park facility, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said it will offer a setting like a normal life.

"What this facility means is that we have a setting for families where they have a better chance to go about their daily lives with space to live and breathe, play facilities for your children, a place to sit and relax or watch television," Minister Coveney said.

"To lead something like a normal life and not be stuck on your own in a hotel room, with no on-site supports or other facilities that are available to families living in the community in their own homes, with their own front doors," he added.

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