Frontline gardaí say they are “horrified” that homeless families are having to sleep in Garda stations overnight, saying that they are “wholly unsuitable”, particularly for children.
The intervention by the Garda Representative Association (GRA) comes as photographs circulated showing young children lying across hard seats in a bright reception room at Tallaght Garda Station in south-west Dublin on Wednesday night.
Margaret Cash, a mother of seven, the children aged from one to 11, put up the image online, which was retweeted by Anthony Flynn of Inner City Helping Homeless, gathering publicity.
The mother said that her family has been on housing list for 11 years and a year on the homeless list.
However, the head of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said that there is “absolutely no need” for homeless families to stay in Garda stations.
Eileen Gleeson said that if the family had stayed in contact with the executive on Wednesday night, they would have been given appropriate emergency accommodation.
Mr Flynn said 16 children from three families slept in Garda stations on Wednesday night.
Sinn Féin claims seven homeless families were in Garda stations on Wednesday night, but the executive could not verify that.
Mr Flynn said the warning signs have been there for months, with 48 families staying in Garda stations last month and 47 the month before.
He warned that the situation is “going to get worse” with the impending papal visit and the influx of 500,000 into the city, many seeking accommodation in hotels and B&Bs, which are used to provide emergency housing to families.
GRA communications director John O’Keeffe said the association is “horrified” at the photograph.
“The GRA have every sympathy for this family who felt they had to go to this Garda station for shelter due to their housing situation.
“Regardless, a Garda station is wholly unsuitable accommodation for any family in this terrible predicament, as a public area in an operational station, is clearly an inappropriate space to accommodate young children and families.
“We sincerely hope that this family, and all other families in this situation, can be accommodated in appropriate housing for their current and future needs.”
Earlier, the Garda Press Office confirmed the incident at Tallaght station, saying the family — the mother and six of her seven children — had shown up during the night “as they had nowhere to go”.
It said: “Members of An Garda Síochána tried all the emergency lines in relation to a homeless shelter and no accommodation was located, a number of local hotels were also phoned. The family were cared for during the night by the members working and received a hot breakfast. The family have left and are on the way to South Dublin County Council.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan programme, Mr Flynn disagreed with the executive that the situation was unprecedented: “It’s exceptional because it is being publicised. This is not exceptional, we’ve seen it for a number of months, the warnings have been there.”
He added: “This is going to get worse. The papal visit will highlight the issue even further, the fact that 500,000 people are going to enter the city.”
Also speaking on RTÉ, Ms Gleeson said the situation on Wednesday was “unprecedented” in that 10 families, including large families and ones from outside Dublin, sought accommodation out of hours.
She said the homeless executive found accommodation for five families; that a sixth family refused the offer; two families were “linked back” to the regions they came from; and two did not seek further assistance.
She assumes the family in Tallaght station is one of the two families that did not seek further assistance.
She said there was “absolutely” no need for the family to have stayed in the station: “If they had kept in touch with us we would have continued to work with them to find appropriate accommodation.”
Ms Gleeson said the executive has contingency plans for the papal visit, similar to plans for extreme weather and major concerts or sporting events in terms of demands for accommodation. She said it may involve moving people seeking emergency accommodation to outside Dublin for the night.
Labour Party housing spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan said the reports are “deeply disturbing”, but said it is not the first time. “Unless something is done to put children at the heart of our State’s response to homelessness, it won’t be the last,” she said.