TRUST has been active in a front line capacity providing health and social services for people who are homeless on the streets of Dublin for the last 30 years.
The observations and recommendations made as part of this submission have been informed directly by our hands on work with society’s most marginalised citizens.
1.Alcohol is the drug of choice for many of the people we meet everyday who are increasingly referred to as “street homeless”. In most cases it can also be said that alcohol has literally destroyed their lives.
2.We refer to the people we work with as outsiders in the sense that they feel themselves excluded by society. Increased funding in recent years has not addressed their plight and if anything has made things worse as it has sought to sweep them literally under the carpet. “Emergency accommodation” and “wet hostels” have only sought to take them out of the official statistics and not helped them in any meaningful way.
3.Increased funding has also led to the creation of a larger bureaucracy which has sought to manage this problem by channelling more and more funding through voluntary agencies as the state has sought to retreat directly from hands on responsibility. This has ironically resulted in more red tape as “performance indicators” and “benchmarks” are being enforced to make the voluntary sector meet “standards”. The only problem is that many of the people we meet everyday are outsiders because they cannot cope – even the idea of form filling in some cases can result in them not even applying for services of any kind.
4.A good example of how alienating and destructive this attempt to manage this new model of voluntary privatisation can be is revealed by the fact that although alcohol treatment centres are 100% funded by the Health Boards and managed by the voluntary sector they are less accessible than State managed services. Direct referral can only be made by selected individuals and many experienced professionals are being hindered in their efforts to get help for those who need it.
5.The emphasis now on gathering personal information has reached such a pitch that when somebody applies for anything they can expect to face quite intrusive questionnaires. As already noted this is part of the problem in creating social exclusion for many of the most vulnerable. The is also a fundamental rights issue and it is not being addressed.
1.Early intervention is crucial but cross-department involvement at community level, involving hands-on workers is necessary. Hands-on work is hard, undervalued and usually ignored in the numerous reports produced.
2.Radicals steps need to be undertaken to make the management of the services for people who are homeless on the streets more humane and user friendly. (If hands on work and social contact are under valued naturally vulnerable people will find the services very alienating.)
3.Those who seek to question the current system must be listened to instead of being actively discouraged. At present a climate of fear exists which ensures nothing will change. (This situation is also compounded by the fact that with the voluntary sector now in receipt of state funds to maintain services organisations that were once “voices for the voiceless” have been silenced as if they speak out will their funding continue?)
4.Alcohol needs to be recognised as a drug as part of the Drugs Strategy and steps promoted to more actively discourage its abuse. Obvious measures like forbidding all drinks advertising and sponsorship of any kind, especially of sporting event, need to be urgently implemented.