County council adopts homeless action plan to tackle increasing numbers seeking help

The number of homeless people presenting to Galway County Council and other local authorities in the West is increasing with the complexity of cases described as very worrying, necessitating the implentation of a Regional Homeless Action Plan, which will shift the focus from the hostel model to providing a more permanent solution.

At a meeting of Galway County Council this week, director of services for housing and emergency services, Eugene Cummins told councillors that the existing method of dealing with homelessness in the county, and nationally, is not working as the numbers presenting is not reducing. Mr Cummins presented the draft Regional Homeless Action Plan for the West region for the period 2013 to 2016 which was subsequently adopted by council members.

This is the second Homeless Action Plan for the West region, covering Galway city and county, Mayo, and Roscommon. The plan outlines the national and local context for addressing homelessness, provides a mechanism for implementing the National Homeless Strategy - ‘The Way Home’, and provides strategic direction for the actions to be delivered over the next three years, which will be contained in the implementation blueprint to be finalised in August this year. The aims and objections of the plan include: to reduce homelessness through preventative measures; to eliminate the need for people to sleep rough; eliminate long-term homelessness and reduce reliance on emergency accommodation; provision of adequate and appropriate housing and support for homeless people; better co-ordinated arrangements and integrated delivery to ensure efficient services; and to maintain effective arrangements for monitoring and implementation.

Addressing the councillors, Mr Cummins explained how nationally “the costs associated with dealing with homelessness are very significant” and that the focus of the action plan is to try to solve the problem with permanent housing. “This is a concentrated effort to deal the problem nationally, to change from the hostel model to permanent housing,” he said, adding that the action plan would not result in additional cost to the council as the Government is funding it.

In response to questions, Mr Cummins stressed that as a housing authority Galway County Council has an obligation to deal with homelessness, however, “the existing model is not working”. He explained that solutions could include the option of leasing, working with the private sector and voluntary services and that the council has two professionally trained social workers to deal with more difficult cases.

“It is challenging but we’re dealing with it. If someone is homeless, the council has a duty in the first instance to provide a bed. The frequency of those presenting as homeless is increasing and the complexity of the cases, some of them are quite worrying. We have to take care of them the best way we can. The existing way of dealing with the situation has not worked, the numbers are not reducing,” said Mr Cummins, who added that the plan will be further developed over the next few weeks.

The range of services in Galway city include emergency accommodation at Fairgreen Hostel, Osterly Lodge, and the Winter Initiative, while supported accommodation includes the St Vincent de Paul run St Anthony and Mill Street, as well as the Cuan Mhuire addiction recovery service at Teach Mhuire. There are also some resettlement services as well as specialist services in the city. In Galway county the services include the addiction recovery service Cuan Mhuire as well as Bridge House Resource Centre run by the Simon Community. After assessment the Galway County Council provides emergency accommodation through a mixture of social housing where immediately available in a small number of cases, private hostels, and budget hotels, and occasionally in B&Bs. The council also avails of the services and facilities provided by COPE in the city in many cases and works with Galway City Council in facilitating these services and supports. Ballinasloe Town Council also operates a four day service from the Bridge Resource Centre, in conjunction with Galway Simon.

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