Two Wexford councillors have called on the District Council to provide bins and washing facilities for rough sleepers who are enduring 'inhuman' living conditions in rubbish and rodent filled encampments.
Cllrs. Tom Forde and Mick Roche of Sinn Fein said they were contacted by homeless groups and charities concerned about rough sleepers in Ferrybank and appealed for something to be done to help them.
'In the interest of health, safety and dignity, we ask that the Council seek to provide some basic on and off-site services, such as bins and washing facilities for those who are trapped in this long-term situation', they said.
'There is a lot of rubbish over there and a lot of waste and people are saying that there's a lot of rodents. Is there anything we can do to get rid of the waste', said Cllr. Forde.
The proposal was seconded by Cllr. Tony Walsh of People Before Profit who described it as 'a humanitarian motion and a very good one' and added: 'We need to deal with this once and for all.'
During an earlier discussion on housing, Cllr. Walsh said the Council needs to look after a particular group of homeless people who are falling outside housing and homeless provision and should consider facilities such as hubs which have been created in areas like Waterford, Limerick and Cork to cater for people who don't fit into hostels such as Ozanam House.
'There is a great need for people whose situations are more complex.We have people living in tents. It's really, really hard to try and cope with what is happening in Ferrybank. You're playing on the heart strings of people to try and get something done and that ability is reduced because of the demand'', he said.
Cllr. Lisa McDonald agreed and and said there is a particular issue in relation to separated men and older single men. 'It's a serious issue and we need to treat people with dignity', she said.
Senior housing executive Padraig O'Gorman agreed that homelessness is an issue and said the Council expects to see substantial progress over the next three to four months as the first of 12 one and two-bed housing units with support services becomes available in the Wexford town area under the Housing First initiative.
'That will meet a lot of the need that is there', he said, adding that additional help will be provided through the Homeless HAP placefinder scheme, a housing assistance programme for homeless people, making it more attractive for landlords to make accommodation available.
Cllr. Walsh said a house shouldn't be the end of the line but the objective should be to support people towards independent living. 'It can't be a stand-alone issue. It should come with a lot of other services and supports'.
In relation to the motion presented by Cllrs. Forde and Roche, Mr. O' Gorman said he understood the sentiment behind it but added that the Council cannot provide facilities at unauthorised encampments.
The housing official said people can get showers, a change of clothes and a hot meal at Ozanam House hostel for homeless men on an outreach basis any day. 'I have no issue with the sentiment of the motion but we are not in a position to put in temporary care facilities where people are rough sleeping', he said.
Cllr. Forde welcomed the Housing First initiative but it could take months before people are housed and he asked the Council to at least put a waste bin in to deal with the rubbish.
'In our case, we have unauthorised, illegal occupation of land and by us providing facilities, we are saying that's okay. We would be uncomfortable with that', replied Mr. O'Gorman.
'Would it be possible to put facilities close by', asked Cllr. Forde. 'It's very inhuman to be leaving people in that situation. It's unacceptable'.
'You are asking us to provide facilities wherever an encampment occurs', said Mr. Forde, re-iterating that there will be significant progress as a result of the Housing First project when the Council will be approaching some of the people at the centre of the councillors' concern.
Reminded by Cllr. Walsh that there are also women rough sleeping in the town, Mr. O'Gorman said men and women will be housed in Housing First and he will also enquire with Wexford Women's Refuge to see if an outreach service can be provided for homeless women.