ANTHONY CARTER (46), has been sleeping in emergency hostels for the best part of 20 years.

These days, though, he’s back on the street. He spent last night in the doorway of the old Iveagh Baths, now an upmarket fitness club. And chances are he’ll spend tonight there as well.

“Anytime I ring up the homeless service, you either don’t get an answer or you’re told it’s full up,” he says. “There’s nothing available. It’s just a case of getting a sleeping bag, or whatever.”

He isn’t the only one having difficulties accessing emergency homeless services. Fr Peter McVerry, who works with young homeless people, says the service is in crisis and more people than ever are being forced to sleep on the streets than at any time over the past decade.

He tells they story of one young man who was told he was “54th in a queue” when he rang up a special helpline to get a bed. Many are caught in a limbo where they need receipts from hostels to get welfare payments, but can’t get in the door of a hostel in the first place.

“It is frustrating enough to be homeless when the services actually work,” he says. “With the services now close to collapse, their frustration levels are boiling over.”

Alice Leahy, the director and co-founder of Trust, a support centre which has been running for the past 35 years, agrees that the problem is worse now than it has ever been. She says there is far too much bureaucracy, too much box-ticking, and not enough focus on the real needs of homeless people.

“Instead, people have become statistics to be moved around and ‘cases’ to be managed.”

The current problems have coincided with a sharp increase in demand for emergency accommodation and a reconfiguration of the way homeless services are organised.

Policymakers are keen to move away from a model where homeless people drift in and out of crisis accommodation, towards greater use of longer-term beds in the private-rented sector.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive – a partnership run by the city’s four local authorities – is in charge of organising homeless services in the capital.

It insists the numbers sleeping rough are not increasing, but accepts there may be disruption for people accessing emergency services. In the meantime, it says staff are working hard to provide more stability to people who are sleeping rough or in need of emergency beds.

A spokeswoman said sleeping bags were given to people instead of hostel beds where hostels were full and acknowledged this was “not a satisfactory response to homelessness”.

“We have recently introduced a bed management system to try and take a ‘stabilisation’ approach to ensure that people do not have to consistently re-present for an emergency bed,” a spokeswoman said.

The executive says it has helped source longer-term beds for more than 80 people in recent weeks and says another 34 beds will be available in the next two weeks.

This, most agree, will solve much of the problem in the short-term. Whether it is enough to meet people’s needs once winter arrives is another story.

Carter, meantime, is continuing to muddle through. Getting off the street and into stable accommodation would be a big help in trying to get his life back on track.

“Being on the street, you just feel low. You’re an outcast. Most days, I’ll hang around the Custom House drinking. What else can you do? You get asked to leave shops, you don’t get served in pubs, you can’t use the toilets. It’s a different world.”

CARL O’BRIEN, Chief Reporter, Irish Times