‘M’ is not the only person living rough in Carrick. She is the one who has had courage enough to take on the bureaucrats, media silence and the onset of savage weather.
By Councillor Des Guckian
I’m a (very) Independent Councillor for the Carrick-on-Shannon Electoral area. I have refused to join the large coalition that exists on the Council which controls appointment, zonings and land disposals, as well as across a range of necessary services, the day-to-day dispensing of justice.I do not close my eyes to injustices.
In mid-September, I was told by a very concerned person that a woman (I’ll call her M) was sleeping rough on the streets of Carrick-on-Shannon. The next information I got was that she had presented as homeless to Leitrim Housing on 17 September. She was not well received and was, bluntly, told to go back to Dublin. This was despite evidence that she carried stating that she had properly signed out of a place in Finglas. A similar dismissal occurred a few days later.
What convinced me that this was a great injustice was the knowledge that M had grown up in Carrick and had attended school there. Therefore she is a native of County Leitrim. She is a member of the Traveller community.
According to Focus Ireland, the second quarter of 2020 was the first quarter in which the number of people exiting homelessness is higher than the number becoming homeless since this data began being published in 2014.
Most councils were anxious to get the homeless off the streets during COVID, but not Leitrim.
After the Council’s refusal to provide her with any form of emergency accommodation,
M was forced into sleeping rough on the town’s streets. This is fraught with dangers. I wrote numerous emails to the Council’s Housing Department stating that M could be attacked, could die of hypothermia, and risked severe mental strain. I also pointed out that there were sad precedents, in Carrick, where homeless people had died while sleeping rough.
All this was generally ignored by media, by Council officials and by the general population. I had queried Housing officials about homelessness in our County. The stock answer was that anyone presenting as homeless was looked after. I argued that M was a clear case giving the lie to such assertions.
At the full Council meeting in September, two other Councillors asked questions about thehomelessness problem. The answers given by Housing officials were on the lines “We do a good job”. In further emails, I was told that National Department of Housing funding was available to help a Council defray most of the expenses incurred.
It turned out that, for years now, Leitrim has had no emergency hostels and we have been offloading our homeless onto Sligo City. It is a logical assumption that Sligo benefited from funding provided for our homeless and for theirs. It took a long time to get Leitrim Housing to admit that they were avoiding the hard work and some expenses.
On 22 September, M was accompanied by a Simon worker when she, again, presented at the Housing office. Again, she was refused. M made it clear that she was not going to be forced to leave Carrick and she resumed sleeping rough. I wrote to Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and to Pavee Point.
Nothing positive emerged, though Pavee told me they wrote twice to Leitrim Housing, but got nowhere.
I put a motion, on M’s plight, before the Carrick Municipal meeting of 18 October. The Council officials just circled the wagons and my fellow Councillors were struck dumb. I thought something had been achieved, when, that very evening, the Council’s Traveller Liaison Officer visited M and promised to help her. It was a false dawn and she spent more nights on the streets.
At the start of November, the Council obtained emergency accommodation for M in a flat, in Carrick, for four nights a week only, but she had scandalously to move out at the weekend to allow the owner to cater for the hen and stag parties that have become ubiquitous in Leitrim.
At the Council’s Budget Meeting I put forward a motion that money should be set asideto provide a hostel, in Carrick, to provide emergency shelter for our homeless. Council officials managed to crush this motion with the aid of the coalition and it was not mentioned in media reports of the meeting.
Embarrassingly, the budget itself was to provide an estimated €142,113 for “Homeless Service”, but a grand total of €444,611 for “Veterinary Service”. The latter, I was told, included a dog shelter. I commented that we could provide a shelter for dogs, but not for homeless people. I told the officials that if M died on the streets, they would be held responsible.
That evening, the Council officials told M that they would provide B&B accommodation for her in far off Ballinamore, but if she stayed on the streets in Carrick, it would be her own responsibility.
M remains on the streets of Carrick. Council officials just washed their hands of her. She is
not the only person living rough in Carrick. She is the one who has had courage enough to
take on the bureaucrats, media silence and the onset of savage weather to highlight her needs and her civil rights.
Leitrim County Council commented: “It is the policy of Leitrim not to comment on individual cases. However, where a person presents as homeless, they are assessed and where appropriate an offer of temporary emergency accommodation is made through the provision of B&B accommodation. It is matter for the individual to accept or refuse this offer of temporary emergency accommodation”.
Personally, I’m shocked that Council officials would behave in such a callous manner towards a fellow human being. A month before Christmas in modern Ireland, there is still no room at the inn.