CARL O’BRIEN, Chief Reporter

HOMELESS PEOPLE in Dublin city centre are increasingly being advised to return to the local authority areas where they last resided, due to growing pressure on emergency services, according to campaigners.

Trust, which has been providing services for the past 35 years, says the policy is exacerbating the homeless problem and claims many are sleeping rough in the capital or seeking emergency beds as a result.

Latest official figures show the numbers of people sleeping rough have jumped by 45 per cent in Dublin over the past six months. The vast majority of rough-sleepers are based in the city centre.

Alice Leahy, the co-founder of Trust, said: “The stories we hear are much worse than we’ve ever heard before . . . Increasingly people are being referred back to where they came from.

“This did happen in the past relating to income and now it is happening in relation to housing and shelter.

“Many of the people who find themselves homeless in the city are there because of issues around their personal lives, often springing from childhood.”

The State’s policy on tackling homelessness, Pathways to Home , emphasised a regional approach to tackling the issue in 2007 and sought to make services available in the areas where individuals become homeless.

Most homeless services providers support the overall policy, but many say that it is not working out as envisaged.

Ms Leahy – a critic of the policy – said it did not recognise that homeless people in the city often felt they could not return to their own area for personal or security reasons.

If they are refused longer-term accommodation in the capital, she said, they can become trapped in the “chaotic” world of emergency shelters and have little opportunity to regain control of their lives.

Dublin Simon supports the State’s policy overall. But its head of housing, Catherine Kenny, expressed concern that homeless services were not being adequately developed in areas where homeless people come from.

She said homeless people who move to Dublin were “falling between the cracks” because they were not able to access homeless accommodation in areas where they previously resided.

“We are also concerned that funding cuts to homeless initiatives nationwide will leave counties without the resources to deliver services that this regionalisation policy requires.”

In a statement, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive – which organises homeless services in the capital – confirmed that people from other local authority areas are encouraged to return to their own local authority area to arrange for long-term accommodation options.

While individuals from outside Dublin may be provided with temporary accommodation for up to seven nights, it said they are then required to return to the local authority area. If they do not return, emergency accommodation is generally available on a night-by-night basis.

“It is important to state that each local authority area is legally obliged to have a homeless action plan in place to respond to the needs of people who are homeless in their area,” the executive said in a statement.

“Reciprocal arrangements take place between local authorities if an individual is unable to return to their local area.”

Latest figures show that Dublin City Council is spending about €11 million annually on the provision of emergency beds.

The increase in homelessness and a shortage of short-term beds has forced authorities to source about 80 additional emergency beds over recent months.