*Laurel Lodge. Photograph: John Mangan
A SENIOR OFFICIAL in the housing section of Clare County Council has said he does not sleep easy due to removing people and families from emergency accommodation.
Addressing councillors at a meeting of the Ennis Municipal District, Padraig MacCormaic, acting senior executive officer with the County Council outlined that he overseen the removal of five individuals or families from emergency accommodation in recent times.
He stated, “it is not a pleasant thing to do, asking a mother of a young family or a man with addiction issues to leave emergency accommodation is not an easy thing to do and I don’t sleep easy because of it”.
MacCormaic noted, “We don’t expect people coming into emergency accommodation to be angelic, they have all sorts of issues so there is low tolerance but not for threats of violence towards staff or being excessively drunk”.
His comments came in response to a motion by Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF). She highlighted, “There is a real concern that a small number of residents of Laurel Lodge are continuing to pose a real challenge to the sense of safety that residents and visitors to Ennis are experiencing”. She added, “It is understood that in recent years, the hostel has transformed from a ‘dry’ hostel to a ‘wet’ hostel for its residents. Is this transformation from ‘dry’ to ‘wet’ in compliance with the planning conditions”.
Laurel Lodge was established as homeless support hostel in 2008. Planning permission was granted by An Bord Pleanála in 2007 and it was a condition that a detailed management plan outlining the access, security and staffing arranging for the facility were to be agreed with the planning authority prior to occupation of the house. This condition was complied with in 2008 by St Vincent de Paul, management of the service was transferred from St Vincent de Paul to MidWest Simon in 2021.
In his response, MacCormaic explained, “The terms “dry” or “wet” hostel are not referred to within the planning condition”. He confirmed there is a service level agreement between MidWest Simon and the County Council regarding the provision of services and that it is reviewed annually. Care and support services are provided at Laurel Lodge on a 24/7 basis, 365 days per annum.
MidWest Simon provide a low threshold service at the facility, this provision is available to all homeless households, where prevention has not been successful, it focuses on persons with support needs related to mental ill health, enduring drug or alcohol dependency, persons or dependents fleeing domestic violence, individuals with mild disabilities, ex-offenders (including sex offenders), persons discharged from institutional care, young persons leaving care and individuals with a valid NTQ.
County councillors in July adopted a Homeless Central Placement Policy. “A Conditions of Stay within Emergency Services is included within this adopted policy. This is the “rules of stay” within EA service that all client’s need to adhere to and if this is broken or an individual is in breach of this, services may be withdrawn. Since adoption of this policy Clare County Council, along with a number of Emergency Service providers, have withdrawn emergency accommodation from some clients who fail to adhere to same,” MacCormaic stated.
Withdrawal of supports in the event of a lack of cooperation is the right stance, Cllr Colleran Molloy believed. “I’ve a very clear memory from the Council of it being referred to as a dry hostel, as far as they were concerned it was a dry hostel but it has changed since then,” Cllr Mary Howard (FG) commented.
When planning permission was applied for by the Council, “significant submissions from residents” were lodged, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) recalled. Previous assurances that it was “a dry hostel” do not seem to be correct, he felt. “There is no way we can tolerate a small number of people causing such anti-social behaviour,” Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF) remarked. “It has gone from dry to wet, it is wet and there are people very drunk around the place,” Mayor of the Ennis MD, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) said.
Speaking at the Ennis MD sitting, MacCormaic outlined, “The homeless situation is very precarious, we are facing into difficult months for the winter, there is a rise in the number of rough sleepers in Ennis and other areas of the town which we hadn’t anticipated”. He said, “To my knowledge drink and drug taking is not allowed on the premises, there seems to be anti-social behaviour in the area around Laurel Lodge, I did an investigation for the reply to this notice of motion, the people ye are talking about are not residents of Laurel Lodge, they are sleeping rough around the area”.
He referenced a recent social media post of a homeless man in Ennis which had “mixed comments”. He continued, “we have zero engagement from some people, the HSE support us and do get involved, where there is no apparent medical issues the HSE cannot support them so it turns to behaviour issues, it is not just the HSE, Clare County Council or Mid-West Simon, it is a collaborative issue, we are trying to put supports in place, when the supports are refused it becomes very difficult”.
According to the acting senior executive officer, “the perception that we’re housing homeless people from other counties is not true, where somebody presents to the homeless team from outside the county we follow national protocol, we will house them for one night and then ship them back to their own county. We don’t want to become a soft touch in Co Clare”.
Expressions of interest looking for alternative providers of B&Bs for emergency accommodation have been issued by the Council. “We are striving hard for more homeless hubs but it is very difficult to source them”.
Reacting to this contribution, Cllr Colleran Molloy admitted, “I wouldn’t want your job to be honest”. She continued, “I can imagine how difficult it is for you to orchestrate removal of two people from homeless shelters, that is really difficult, then you have a situation of what happens next to these people, they are not engaging”. She welcomed his comments, “you also knocked on the head what Cllr Flynn has said before that Clare has become a soft touch for homeless people”.
Responding to these comments, Cllr Flynn stated, “In my experience, the majority of homeless and rough sleepers are not natives of the town, a lot of them are from outside the county”. He said that a local priest who was assisting the homeless can confirm that three quarters of the persons were from outside Clare. “If there’s rough sleepers that are not indigenous we don’t have control of that,” MacCormaic replied.