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Homeless hub marks new era in housing



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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Council rows back on ‘reduced delays’ projections for Kirwan junction



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Motorists have described it as ‘a disaster’ and a former mayor has said the project gave very poor value for money, but Galway City Council have this week asked the public to be patient with the revamped Kirwan junction, close to the Menlo Park Hotel.

Since the four-arm signalled junction opened early last week, motorists have complained of traffic queues stretching back to the Quincentenary Bridge and Corrib Park.

And now the Council has rowed back on its consultants’ claims that the junction would increase capacity by 15% and reduce waiting times by 25%.

Former mayor and local taxi driver, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that given the negative impact of the junction on traffic, the €5 million spent on the project represented ‘very poor value’ as regards taxpayers’ money.

“I will admit that the junction is now safer for pedestrians in that they can hit a button to give them a safe crossing, but since it opened there have some very serious traffic tailbacks,” said Cllr Fahy.

However, City Council Acting Director of Services for Transport, Uinsinn Finn, told the Galway City Tribune that the new junction needed time to ‘bed in’ with a familiarisation process.

“The main objectives of this project were to make far safer for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, as well as making it safer for motorists too, without impacting [negatively] on the traffic flow,” said Mr Finn.

He added that since it opened – and over the coming few weeks – data on all aspects of how the junction was functioning would be compiled which could involve changes to light sequencing, lanes and peak traffic flows.

One motorist who contacted this newspaper said that the daily “nightmare” journey from the Barna Road to the Headford Road during the morning peak traffic time had added up to 40 minutes to his journey time.

“The two lanes are regularly gridlocked from the junction, back the N6, over the Quincentenary Bridge and back to Corrib Park.

“In the mornings, it’s now easier to go down Taylor’s Hill and into town, past Eyre Square and up Bohermore to get down to the Headford Road.

Councillors were told by consultants in 2017 and again in 2018 – when they voted to proceed with the changeover to a junction – that average delays would be reduced by 25% and junction capacity would increase by 15%.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Man hospitalised following Eyre Square assault



Gardaí have appealed to the public for information into an assault in Eyre Square last weekend which led to a young man being hospitalised.

The victim of the assault – a man in his early 20s from the city area – suffered a cut to his knee and may have had a substance sprayed towards his eyes.

Following the incident – that occurred close to the Eyre Square taxi rank shortly after midnight on Saturday night last – the victim was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Galway.

It is understood that the victim was released later that morning and has made a full recovery. This week, Gardaí are poring over CCTV footage in an effort to try and identify the perpetrators of the assault.

The assailants are understood to have fled on foot after the incident towards St Patrick’s Avenue on the east side of Eyre Square.

A Garda spokesperson has appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity of the taxi rank on Eyre Square between 12 midnight and 12.30am on the Sunday morning (Saturday night) of July 25 last, and who may have witnessed the incident to contact them.

(Photo: the assailants fled on foot towards St Patrick’s Avenue off Eyre Square)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Council turns down controversial phone mast plan



From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Galway City Council has refused an application by Eircom to erect a 12-metre telecoms mast in a housing estate in Knocknacarra.

The local authority turned down the company’s application for planning permission to install the structure in the heart of Drom Óir over concerns that it would create a visual obstruction in a residential area – and would have a detrimental impact on property prices.

Eircom had also sought retention to keep a concrete foundation for the mast in situ after it was forced to abandon works earlier this year, amid protests from residents in Drom Óir and Leitir Burca. This was also rejected.

City planners issued the company with a warning letter in April to cease works after contractors on site drew the ire of nearby residents, who accused Eircom of seeking to install the mast ‘by stealth’.

A total of 26 letters of objection were submitted to the Council from residents of the two estate.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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