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Homeless hub marks new era in housing

Stephen Corrigan



The homes and playground in the new hub in the Westside.

The Peter McVerry Trust has been at the forefront of the fight against homelessness in the capital for almost 40 years. In recent years, it has widened its scope by expanding to the regions and last month, opened its first facility in Galway.

The launch of the Modular Family Hub in the Westside heralds the start of a new chapter in rowing back the tide of homelessness that the city has been dealing with for the past decade – with the Peter McVerry Trust hoping to assist with the Trojan work already being done by charities such as COPE Galway and the Simon Community.

CEO of the Trust, Pat Doyle, says the hub – consisting of fifteen self-contained modular build units – is just the start of their work in the West, with work already underway to source homes for purchase and establish a regional office in Galway City.

The €1 million Family Hub, which welcomed its first families over the past couple of weeks, is made up of two and three-bed modular homes to provide transitional accommodation to families as they seek to find secure accommodation – keeping them out of emergency accommodation and avoiding its many pitfalls, as Pat explains.

“The Westside Family Hub was a pilot project with the Department of Housing and Galway City Council, and we were asked to come on board as partners. The units have a 60-year lifespan and meet all the needs of families.

“We have a family resources unit on-site that’s staffed 24 hours a day, where there’s a family consultation area where we can work with families to arrange move-ons and put in place supports,” says Pat.

The facility is fully equipped with outdoor and indoor children’s pay areas, laundry facilities and each unit has a kitchen and space to allow normal family life to carry on – giving children space to do their homework that they wouldn’t have if they were living out of a hotel room.

“We did some work with families looking at their experiences of emergency accommodation in hotels and B&Bs and the experience for them is traumatic. We asked what the most difficult part of it was for them. Families told us that having no facilities to cook was a particular challenge, and if there was somewhere, they might only have access to it once a day.

“They also told us one of the things was having no facility to do laundry. It can be very expensive to be homeless when you have to send out your laundry all the time to get it sorted, or if not, you’re trying to wash it in the en suite bath,” Pat explains.

The Peter McVerry Trust has fifteen family hubs across Ireland in Dublin, Meath, Louth and now Galway – and they have proven very effective.

“What we made sure we had in all of them was to have separate sleeping accommodation for children so Mam or Dad, or Mam and Dad, had a separate sleeping space – one woman told us that the night she moved in, it was the first time in months that she didn’t have to go to bed at 8pm because her and the children weren’t in the same room,” says Pat.

The charity’s first hub was at Hazel House in Glasnevin where it has thirteen units. Nine families moved through the unit on to more permanent accommodation within six to nine months last year, leading Pat to believe that the Galway facility, with its fifteen units, could see 30 families access secure accommodation within a year.

“The next challenge, once the families are in the hub, is helping them to move on.

“There is a heating and electricity meter in each unit so that residents can learn skills, if they haven’t already got those budgeting skills. Each family will pay a differential rent,” says Pat, explaining that the amount paid is assessed in the same way as rent is calculated by local authorities.

Part of what the Peter McVerry Trust does is to ensure that there is adequate suitable accommodation for families to move into, and through building, buying and leasing properties, families with significant challenges are catered for by the charity as an approved housing body, says Pat.

“Sometimes there are significant challenges, for example, sourcing a five-bed house, or there could be other issues that might make moving-on from a hub take a bit longer. One family might need a house for a person with a disability, but the average is six to nine months.

“If we have a family in Galway who has a particular difficulty, we will buy, lease or build a property. We have identified five potential building sites in Galway and we already have a line of sight to a number of key properties in Galway for purchase. We haven’t landed them yet, but they’re identified.”

When the Peter McVerry Trust went into Limerick in 2016, it had two properties – it now has 50 and is in the process of adding another 40 to that portfolio.

“Our job in Galway will be to lend a hand to the local authority to build and buy property to assist with the housing waiting list,” says Pat.

Galway suffers the same issues as many cities, where there is a shortage of accommodation due to it being a university city with a large hospital – two elements that put severe pressure on the housing market.

“We’re only there [in Galway] about a month but we are hoping over the next few years to develop a portfolio of 100-plus properties. We’re also identifying an office in Galway and we’re in full consultation with the local authority.

“We also do a number of re-builds – there’s a scheme called the Repair and Leasing Scheme. There are a number of properties in need of renewal in Galway and you enter a contract with the Council to do that work, but the landlord must lease it back for at least ten to twenty years and it has to be social housing,” says Pat.

The Trust has already identified a brownfield site in the city for development, he adds. “We identify opportunities and bring them to the Council to see if it can be made to work.”

Reflecting on the current circumstances in light of Covid-19, Pat says it’s inevitable that there will be an impact on housing – with building costs likely to increase by ten to fifteen per cent, but it was a question of priorities for the incoming government.

“In the election, people made clear they want a good-quality health service, good-quality social housing and more of it,” he says, but adds that it will be challenging.
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Hospital worker failed to self isolate after trip to red-list country

Francis Farragher



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Management at University Hospital Galway have been asked to investigate ‘as a matter of urgency’ an allegation that a security employee at the hospital returned to work within the 14-day restriction period after coming back from a ‘red-list’ country.

The person has already worked at least two shifts at the hospital – including looking after an elderly patient – despite the fact that the restriction period would not have expired until this Sunday, September 20.

The Galway City Tribune can reveal that in a letter from SIPTU official to a senior UHG manager, it is alleged there was breach of protocol over recent days by an employee of an outsourced security company.

According to the letter to Services Manager Geoff Ginnety, while the worker was not covered under HSE employee rules, “they still must comply with the Government issued protocols”.

The letter from SIPTU states that the worker in question had told his colleagues that he was in a red-listed country and that ‘he did not have to restrict his movements’ for 14 days and could return to work.

“I request that you [Services Manager at UHG] address these concerns as a matter of urgency and provide clear guidance on how to deal with the issue,” the SIPTU letter states.

According to information accessed by the Galway City Tribune, the employee in question returned from a red-listed country on September 6 last and underwent a test for Covid-19 five days later on September 11.

Shortly after that, according to his employers, the results of his Covid tests came back as negative. The Galway City Tribune understands that he returned to his night-shift work on Tuesday night, September 15, and also worked the Wednesday night shift of September 16.

This newspaper has also been informed by reliable sources that on his first night back on duty the employee was left in charge of an elderly patient, while on his second night back at work, he was dutied to the Emergency Department.

When contacted by the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson for the HSE said that they could not comment on issues relating to individual staff.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the full details, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Leisureland sinks with €20,000 per week losses

Dara Bradley



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The plug is being pulled on Leisureland – leaving hundreds of swimmers, mostly children, and trainee lifeguards, high and dry.

Galway Salthill Fáilte CLG, the company that operates the publicly-owned facility, has confirmed it plans to shut down its swimming pool and gym, leaving members of six aquatic clubs, hundreds of schoolchildren, and the general public, without an amenity for the foreseeable future.

Swimming clubs fear they will lose a whole generation of young swimmers in Galway if the pool closes. And they have warned that it could end up costing €1 million to repair and reopen the pool after a prolonged closure.

Leisureland blamed the impact of coronavirus for its financial woes, with losses running at an average of €20,000 per week.

The company said that by August it had already spent its annual €300,000 subsidy subvention from Galway City Council, and the local authority has indicated it is not in a position to increase the subsidy further in 2020.

The planned closure – which could result in the furloughing of over 20 staff from next month – has shocked the local aquatic community.

A lengthy hiatus with Leisureland closed will mean Galway will lose a ‘whole generation’ of swimmers, according to Eamon Caulfield, President of Galway Swimming Club and member and former chairperson of Corrib Water Polo Club.

“We’re particularly upset and aggrieved that this is going ahead, it’s shocking. They should be looking to reverse this decision,” he said this week.

The majority of the five aquatic clubs that use the facility (Galway SC, Shark SC, Laser SC and Tribes and Corrib water polo clubs) are made up of children aged 10-18, including some international athletes. Hundreds of children from Galway schools also learn to swim there.

A water safety group has been using the pool every Sunday morning since it opened in 1973, he said.

“Historically it is where Galway gets its lifeguards from. How can you not have swim lessons in a public pool? How can you not have water safety taught in a pool in Galway?

“It beggars belief, we’re on the sea. The water safety people, where are they going to go, how are we going to get lifeguards for beaches? How are we going to get teachers for teaching swimming?” asked Mr Caulfield.

The clubs have roughly 150 members each and generate €150,000 revenue annually for Leisureland.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the full version, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Galway Gardaí get more than 1,000 house party calls

Francis Farragher



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Galway Gardaí have responded to more 1,000 house calls relating to house parties during the pandemic from mid-March to early September – the vast majority of them in the city area, it was revealed this week.

Chief Superintendent, Tom Curley, told the Galway City Tribune, that the figures for house party Garda call-outs were ‘startling’ and a source of major concern.

“This is a no-brainer. For anyone thinking of a house party, the simple message is – don’t do it. A serious amount of Garda time is now being spent dealing with house-party related incidents,” he said.

Between March 18 and September 1 this year, the Galway Garda Division responded to 1,034 house-party related calls, most of them in the city area.

“This a real and pressing issue not only for the Gardaí and the health authorities but also for the general public at large.

“Large numbers of people gathering in an enclosed house setting can be potentially disastrous in terms of our efforts to contain the spread of this virus. House parties are out – it’s as simple as that,” said Chief Supt Curley.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read more on Covid in Galway, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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