'If we want to cut numbers, then cut the service' - City Council CEO defends homelessness comments

Update: Dublin City Council’s Chief Executive, Owen Keegan, has defended comments he made at the weekend in which he said that homeless numbers would drop if homeless services were cut, writes Vivienne Clarke.

He told RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) operates a “very open system” and that one of the prices to be paid for such “a compassionate response” is that such services “are a magnet” for people.

He said: “I was trying to make a point if we really wanted to cut numbers, then cut the service. I’m very unhappy with the numbers.”

Mr Keegan said it was a jocular comment because there are municipal districts in the US where they “deal” with the problem of homelessness by decreeing it against the law and then move people outside the town’s boundaries.

The high homeless figures in Dublin are not a negative as such, he said: “People now have choices they didn’t have before.”

He wanted to acknowledge the work of the DRHE and he had been seeking to explain why Dublin figures are “so high”.

“The reality is that if we make better services available, people are happy to access them.”

Mr Keegan explained that because services are better, people who previously would have stayed with their family or parents in cramped conditions were instead presenting as homeless in a bid to access permanent social housing.

He said: “There are cases where people turn down accommodation (under the HAP scheme). People choose to wait in temporary housing pending an offer of permanent social housing.”

He also pointed out that many people in homeless services have a range of complex problems and should be receiving help elsewhere. These were the people, who he had said, “won’t move on”. They are not capable of independent living, he said.

“Homeless services are not the place for people with complex needs, but really homeless services are the only people offering services. It is not the best option for them.”

Mr Keegan said that he is very confident that Dublin City Council will achieve the target figures set by Central Government for social housing, but the problem is not going to be solved until there is a significant growth in private accommodation.

He said: “We’re not in a position to meet all the burdens of housing needs. We are dependent on further significant recovery.”

He anticipates 1,500 social housing units will be completed by Dublin City Council in the next two to three years. Meeting targets will be achieved through a combination of direct builds, leasing, and HAP.

He said that he can see “considerable merit” in the HAP system which was a way of getting people into sustainable tenancies.

Earlier: Dublin City Council head urged to apologise for 'very insulting' comments

Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan has been asked to apologise for claiming homeless services are "an attractive" option.

Speaking to the Sunday Business Post, he said massive investment in homeless services has led to a reluctance in some people to move on.

Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan.
Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan.

Mr Keegan said: “Every year we’ve added 200-300 bed spaces, they’re much higher-quality spaces, but one of the paradoxical problems with that is people are kind of reluctant to move on, they’re almost permanent.

“This is not questioning people’s motives, but Dublin is a major draw for people who are homeless because there is a very wide range of service provision.”

Sinn Fein TD Eoin O'Broin has disagreed with his comments, saying: "The reason why these families are homeless is because of the failure of the State to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing, not because of the behaviour of the families themselves.

"So, whether he intended to or not, I think he has insulted many of these families and he should withdraw the comments and apologise."

Director of Advocacy, Communications and Research with Focus Ireland, Mike Allen has strongly disagreed with his comments.

Mr Allen said: "There is nobody who is becoming homeless who is putting themselves into that form of misery simply to avail of the wonderful facilities that are being offered, and it's obviously very insulting for people to hear that.

"He also said that people are staying on in homeless accommodation, people working for Focus Ireland over the many years never have come across anybody that wants to stay on in emergency accommodation."

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