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The Hubs Before Christmas

Four days before Christmas, The Irish Times published a piece by Kitty Holland about life in so-called family hubs based on interviews with members of three families living in hubs.

Speaking in the Dáil last April, Minister Eoghan Murphy advised that 27 hubs had opened nationally since 2017 offering 650 accommodation spaces for families. According to the Minister, hubs “are not intended to be seen as a housing solution.” The facilities are “emergency accommodation”, but providing “more security and stability for homeless families than is possible in hotel accommodation” and “have been proven to allow families to exit emergency accommodation far more quickly than would be the case if they were staying in a hotel or a bed and breakfast.”

According to Ms. Holland, “unlike hotels and B & Bs, hubs provide cooking and laundry facilities, on-site support workers and in some cases play and homework facilities for children.” Most are operated by charities but 7 in Dublin are privately run. The providers are paid for the service.

Jarring a bit with Minister Murphy’s pronouncements, Sarah and Martin Stokes and their 8 children were preparing for their third Christmas in a hub. But the other two families; Kirsty Stevens and her two infants and Louise O’Leary, her partner Alex McSweeney and their three children, were facing into their first hub Christmas.

What struck me was some of the “rules” associated with hub living. Ms. Holland again:

“…unlike commercial hotels, hubs may have curfews. Some do not allow visitors — even next of kin or babysitters. Often they don’t permit families or allow children to visit each other’s rooms. Most have strict rules about staying out overnight — even to visit family, and some do not permit parents to have a beer or glass of wine in their room in the evening.”

Kirsty Stevens’ family are resident in the Mater Dei hub in Drumcondra, run by Crosscare, the Social Support Agency of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. Ms. Holland reports a Crosscare spokesman as saying they allow visitors until 8pm. There is no curfew but residents are expected to be back at a “reasonable” hour. They may stay out overnight but must tell staff.

Ms. Stokes’ family lives in the privately run Abberley in Tallaght. According to Ms. Holland, Abberley does not allow visitors or alcohol. Residents can stay out overnight but must tell staff.

Ms. O’Leary, Mr. McSweeney and their children are in the Redclyff hub in Cork City, operated by Good Shepherd Cork. Ms. Holland reports:

Redclyff says it allows visitors until 9pm in designated visitor rooms. Residents may stay out overnight if they tell staff. Alcohol is disallowed “for safety purposes”.

Maybe there are perfectly good explanations for the hubs’ policies on internal, inward and outward visits and alcohol use but Ms. Holland cites only the one attributed to Redclyff regarding alcohol.

The Dáil pronouncements last April by Minister Murphy followed publication of a report by The Ombudsman for Children’s office entitled: No Place Like Home — Children’s views and experiences of living in Family Hubs.

The Ombudsman doesn’t shout or thump the table but doesn’t mince words either:

…a relatively consistent narrative has evolved alongside the proliferation of Family Hubs to suggest that they are a suitable short-term, temporary solution. Taking into account the investment and corresponding increase in Family Hubs over the past two years, it is essential that Family Hubs are independently monitored and inspected against agreed standards. Moreover, the suitability of this approach needs to be independently evaluated in order to determine how it might be improved and whether it should be superseded.

Translation: people do need a roof over their heads urgently but it should be the right kind of roof. Aim first. Shoot second.

The Ombudsman also spoke about the stigma of homelessness and living in a family hub:

parents consistently spoke about feeling they had failed in their role as parents. These expressions of shame and failure underscore the very real corrosive impact that homelessness can have on people’s sense of their own dignity and worth.

Children in the 13–17 age group painted a more vivid and blunt picture.

“People always think the homeless are drug addicts, alcoholics, it’s much more than just that, it can be ordinary well off people. I don’t want people to judge because it can be people like me”. (Anna, aged 16)

“I know when people imagine homeless people they think of people living on the streets, and living rough but we’re normal people, we’re normal families going to school, we’re normal”. (Amelia, aged 16)

“Safety purposes” doesn’t count even as an explanation for the prohibition on alcohol in hubs and even less as a justification of it. Some of these “policies” sound like ones designed for the convenience of the providers rather than the benefit of their guests; more darkly, to assist in institutionalising the clients and diminishing their scope for personal agency and choice; to establish clearly who is in charge and that they are solely in charge, all perhaps underlined by a whiff that people consigned to hub accommodation are a sub-class barely deserving of even a roof over their heads and certainly entitled to little more than that.

One wonders what the sanction is for those who breach the alcohol ban? Ejection of delinquents would surely defeat the purpose of the hubs exercise! Perhaps a loss of “privileges”; the terms of the relationship seemingly being established by the “grace and favour” of hub providers rather than the rights of occupiers.

The basis for comparison is narrow though not negligible, but the ban reminds me of the values and mission proclaimed by an institution, one of many that sprouted under a different regime in a different place and at a different time, providing accommodation, frequently temporary, for much larger numbers of people.

“There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Hard Work, Discipline, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of thy Fatherland” were the words painted in large letters on the roof of the maintenance building in Dachau concentration camp.



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Daire O'Criodain

Daire O'Criodain

Former diplomat and aviation finance executive, active now mainly in not-for-profit sector. Living in rural Clare. Weekly posts on Wednesdays.