Homeless families whose emergency hotel accommodation ended last weekend went to Tipperary County Council’s Civic Offices in Clonmel on Monday seeking alternative accommodation.
Several south Tipperary families left homeless due to the rental housing crisis were dealt another blow when their emergency hotel accommodation ended last weekend leaving them with no option but to attend the county council’s offices in Clonmel on Monday morning seeking an alternative place of refuge.
Clonmel’s Cllr Pat English revealed the dire straits these families were in at the end of Tipperary County Council’s June meeting in Nenagh on Monday after spending much of the morning trying to help them.
He called for a special meeting of the local authority to be convened to come up with practical measures to deal with the deepening crisis.
Cllr English told The Nationalist three of the families who turned up in the foyer of the Civic Offices in Clonmel on Monday had been accommodated in the Clonmel Park Hotel for the past two months while the fourth family had just become homeless due to the sale of the rented house they had been living in.
The families ranged in size from seven people to four and all had been in receipt of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) before becoming homeless, according to Cllr English.
Since raising their plight at the council meeting, Cllr English said the council has sourced alternative emergency accommodation for two of the families while the other two families are staying temporarily with relatives until other emergency accommodation is found for them.
“Unless we get on top of this and unless we get support from our Government parties to buy houses with funding this problem will go on for a long, long time,” he told the council meeting.
“There are no (private rental) houses there at the moment so it’s a serious, serious problem that we as a council are going to have to get our minds around.”
Cllr English’s highlighting of the worsening homelessness crisis and shortage of emergency accommodation for those who become homeless sparked another passionate debate on the issue at the council meeting that at times descended into heated exchanges between some councillors.
Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Marie Murphy reminded Cllr English that in the future he should as a “common courtesy” flag an issue he wished to raise under Any Other Business with the Cathaoirleach prior to the meeting. Cllr English responded that this issue only hit his door at 8.30am that day and he had spent most of the morning dealing with it.
The council’s outgoing Housing Strategic Policy Committee Chairperson Cllr Mary Hanna Hourigan was the first of many councillors to support Cllr English’s call for a special meeting on the housing crisis.
She said she had never seen anything like the current horrific situation. She recounted how she was standing in line in the council offices and overheard a nice woman saying: “So I will stay in the car for the weekend and come back on Monday.”
She appealed to council management to “get the finger out” and make vacant council homes requiring minor repairs available to homeless people.
Fellow FG Cllr John Fitzgerald also supported Cllr English’s call and suggested the council acquire dwellings it would normally exclude from purchasing such as properties with outstanding services charges owed on them.
Another Clonmel Cllr Richie Molloy said three “quite distressed” families contacted him on Monday after the decision was taken to end their emergency accommodation at the Clonmel Park Hotel (now renamed the Clonmel Talbot Hotel). He agreed a special meeting on the housing crisis should be convened as soon as possible.
Cllr Siobhán Ambrose also from Clonmel said it was her experience that everyone in the council’s Housing Department were doing their best. She agreed they needed to come up with solutions but cautioned councillors to be realistic about what they could achieve.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Cllr David Dunne called for the special meeting to be widened out to include groups assisting the homeless, housing bodies and the gardaí.
He claimed there were ten people living in the derelict Clonmel Arms Hotel building at the moment because they have nowhere else to go.
The council’s new Housing SPC Chairman Cllr Kieran Bourke pointed out that a lot of the solutions to this crisis were outside the control of Tipperary County Council’s Housing Department including the grant aid to refurbish vacant social homes.
He blamed “red tape” between the council and Department of Housing for the slow turn around in refurbishing and re-letting vacant council houses.
Council CEO Joe MacGrath acknowledged councillors’ desire and necessity to have a discussion on this issue but stressed there had to be some balance given.
He said staff in the council’s Housing Section, who were “working night and day” to deal with housing issues. And he insisted the council was “over achieving” on every single housing target set for it.
He echoed Cllr Bourke’s point that the difficulties with housing were a national issue and he cautioned councillors about giving an impression that a special meeting would resolve these issues.
If a special meeting was to be held, he advised that preparations needed to be made if the council was to seek the Government to bring forward measures to address the problems with housing.
He suggested the council’s Director of Housing be given time to consider issues raised by councillors in order to respond to them constructively.
Mr MacGrath suggested the special meeting on housing be incorporated into the council’s July meeting where a full detailed housing report will be given. He promised that whatever time councillors required would be devoted to the housing crisis at that meeting.
He pointed out that the council’s Director of Housing and her team were always available to deal with specific issues.
Cllr Hourigan said she “totally disagreed” with delaying the special meeting until July due to the urgency of the situation, which needed to be tackled “head on”.
She questioned why vacant council houses requiring just minor repairs were left empty for long periods and asked was it the council or Department of Housing’s policy to “rip out” these houses and put a huge amount of money into them. “The amount of money that is actually being wasted is criminal in my opinion,” she declared.
Mr MacGrath described Cllr Hourigan’s comments as “totally unfair” as they wrongly gave the impression nothing was being done about vacant houses.
He said the council’s Director of Housing should be given the opportunity to talk about what was being done with vacant council homes. The council had spent millions of euro on refurbishing these houses for re-letting to tenants.
Cllr Hourigan apologised to the CEO if her remarks upset him but questioned why the council couldn’t accommodate homeless people in empty social homes requiring minor refurbishments rather than having them sleep in cars or on a couch.
Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Marie Murphy argued that the repair and re-letting of vacant social houses was moving much quicker now than two years ago because of the system now in place.
Cllr Bourke intervened and said he would call a meeting of the Housing Strategic Policy Committee over the next few days to discuss the crisis and asked councillors with suggestions and concerns to bring forward at this meeting to contact him or the
Director of Housing Sinead Carr. “We can then see when this special meeting will take place,” he said.
Mr MacGrath welcomed Cllr Bourke’s proposal as very helpful and said he would discuss it with the Director of Housing.
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