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*Photograph: Eugene McCafferty

Criticism of the system operated by the Homeless Action Team has been voiced with one Ennis representative of the view that that the current procedure treats homelessness in the county as a ‘nine to five issue’.

An extension of the operating hours of the Homeless Action Team beyond 5pm was requested by Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) at Monday’s meeting of Clare County Council. “This extension is being requested with the view to assisting those sleeping rough on our streets to gain access to overnight accommodation in one of the Councils Homeless hubs”. The proposal was seconded by Cllr Shane Talty (FF).

Director of Services, Anne Haugh in response stated “significant work” had taken place with respect to addressing street homelessness “with all clients having been offered the opportunity to avail of emergency accommodation as additional beds were recently procured. At this juncture the only such instances where people present as street homeless are those who have declined the service or due to significant behavioural issues have been discharged due to risk they pose to staff and others”.

She described this situation as “extremely rare” and detailed than outreach worker works daily with the clients in question. “The Council are satisfied that the service available within and outside of business hours caters to the genuine need of those experiencing homelessness”.

Speaking on Monday, Cllr Nestor revealed his motion had two aims, to allow greater access to homeless services outside of working hours and to reduce the amount of people sleeping rough. Based on the reply, he expressed his view that neither objective would be achieved. He maintained a system is needed that an out of hours contact is in place.

Late last year, Cllr Nestor recounted that he was contacted by individuals sleeping rough, he was informed by the local authority that he would have to get the persons in question to present themselves to the Council. “I found them at 6pm in the evening, at 6pm in the evening the Council offices are closed, I then contacted an emergency number for a homeless charity, they told me they couldn’t accept homeless the couple unless they were referred to them by the County Council”.

He continued, “The system in place treats homeless in the county as if it is nine to five Monday to Friday issue, are there protocols in place if somebody is homeless and sleeping rough, where do you go”. The county’s youngest councillor said judgement of people is cast on how they assist the less fortunate in society, based on the hot meals, hot soup and bed lined given to those sleeping rough he felt it demonstrated why Ennis was consistently in the running for Ireland’s friendliest town.

Additional services and out of hours assistance is needed for the homeless, Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF) stated. “The homeless do need people after 5pm in the evening and right up through the night. They also need different services, some of them need alcohol or drug substance services to help them”.

Further support was voiced by Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) and Cllr Pat Daly (FF). Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) was hopeful the request would be acted on but believed resources had impinged on the local authority.

“Many complex needs” are associated with homelessness, Chief Executive Pat Dowling commented. He agreed, “One doesn’t choose to be homeless at 6:30pm”. The sentiments of the motion need to be followed through, Dowling stated. “We need to make sure that the complexity of this is not met at the other end by rules or bureaucracy, we have to be responsive 24/7, it is not like taxing your car or lodging a planning application, we must be adaptive and agile to situations like this. We will look at this to ensure that we can respond”.

Rough sleepers in the county town were offered the opportunity to avail of emergency B&Bs for the Christmas period as part of the winter provision piece, Haugh outlined. “There was nobody sleeping on the streets of Ennis over the Christmas period that didn’t choose to do so. There will always be people who choose not to engage with services”.

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