A 81-year-old woman was found homeless and wandering the streets of Dublin streets on Thursday night after being discharged from hospital.
The woman was found, in a freezing and very distressed state, outside the GPO on O’Connell Street shortly after 9pm by a homeless volunteer who runs a soup kitchen for the homeless every Thursday night.
The woman was found by Irene Cody Murphy who immediately alerted two homeless charity workers from the Simon Community.
It is understood that none of the three could contact emergency services and as a result contacted former Dublin Lord Mayor and inner city Independent councillor Christy Burke.
Cllr Burke revealed that he had just returned home after helping on a soup run with Ms Cody Murphy when he received her urgent call.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from Irene when she telephoned me.
In the more than 20 years that I’ve been volunteering with homeless charities never have I come across a case like this.
"If Irene hadn’t have found her I’ve no doubt this woman would have been found dead as a result of hypothermia.
“Imagine an elderly woman after just being discharged from an acute hospital roaming our streets?
I’ve dealt with 12 and 13-year-olds who are homeless but never a woman of this age. We managed to confirm what the woman was saying was true and that she had indeed been discharged from an acute hospital.
“We were about to put her into a hotel thanks to an anonymous donation of €100 on Thursday night. But I managed to get a staff member from Dublin City Council and he got to work straight away in trying to help.
“She kept saying that she didn’t want to go to a particular hostel which led us to believe that she has been suffering for some time and has been out on our streets way before being found like this.”
Cllr Burke confirmed that a staff member of Dublin City Council managed to get the elderly lady, who had not taken any drugs or alcohol and was bright and composed despite being ill, into to a secure location, however, officials were informed that she would have to be out of the premises by 10am today by the manager.
“Dublin City Council have now brokered an arrangement with management at the premises that the elderly lady can stay there until it is ascertained what her exact circumstances are ascertained.
“This beggars belief, this is a despicable situation that the Government are allowing to happen and are being distracted by issues that have little relevance to this crisis. This is an election issue that our elected TDs are running away from.
The numbers of homeless people in Ireland has increased to more than 10,500 for the first time ever.
The Department of Housing recently released homeless figures for last October, showing that there were 10,514 individuals homeless, with 4,000 of these being children.
That’s an increase of 117 on September’s numbers which Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said “was expected following the introduction of new emergency beds in the Dublin region recently”.
It is an increase of 8.1% since October 2018 when the numbers stood at 9,724 according to the Simon Communities.
The elderly woman’s situation is not uncommon — the number of patients discharged by the HSE into ‘no fixed abode’ situations stands at 2,643 over the past eight years, an average of 330 every 12 months, according to Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly.
John Mark McCafferty, chief executive of housing charity Threshold, said the situation highlights “an issue that is becoming more and more pressing — the particular vulnerabilities of the elderly with care needs and health needs and without the assets to take care of themselves”.
“It sparks in me a broader concern about older people whose ability to care for themselves, or access care, is compromised,” he said.
“In those situations it is too easy to fall through the social workers’ net. We’re not building enough social housing, and a subset of that is there isn’t enough for older people, and that situation means the elderly will increasingly find themselves in precarious positions.”
Alone, the charity the supports older people, has called on the Government to provide additional support to older people experiencing housing difficulties.
"We often talk about the problems of delayed discharge from hospital settings where an older person stays in hospital for longer than necessary because the appropriate stepdown supports aren’t available to them, but an older person being discharged onto the streets is simply unacceptable," said CEO Seán Moynihan.
He added that "unless urgent action is taken, this situation will continue to get worse.
"We are calling on the Government and policy makers to take immediate action on this issue in order to ensure that tragic situations like this are not repeated."