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Local authority tight-lipped on ‘homeless hotels’

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City Hall is refusing to say what local hotels and B&Bs it pays for emergency accommodation to house the homeless.

Galway City Council has confirmed it spends on average €16,000 a month, or €4,000 a week, on B&Bs and hotels to house people who present as homeless.

But the local authority is remaining tight-lipped about which hotels or B&Bs in Galway it is paying the money to in return for emergency accommodation.

The Council said if it was made public which hotels and B&Bs it pays to house the homeless then it may impact on its ability to provide emergency accommodation in future.

The Galway City Tribune had requested the information under the Freedom of Information act.

When the Council refused to divulge the data, the decision was appealed but the Council’s FOI appeals officer has upheld the original decision to refuse access, and cites “commercially sensitive information” among the reasons.

Dermot Mahon, Senior Executive Officer, Corporate Services, who heard the appeal, said that “providing information such as this may negatively impact the accommodation providers from a financial/commercial point of view which in turn would negatively affect the ability of the local authority to source accommodation for people in need of housing.”

In his response rejecting the appeal, Mr Mahon added: “If it is known that Galway City Council provides details of the accommodation providers providing emergency accommodation services to Galway City Council, it may deter other accommodation providers from assisting Galway City Council with their accommodation needs in the future.

“Local authorities are already facing significant challenges in sourcing accommodation for vulnerable customers on the housing waiting list. Releasing information which may negatively impact the local authorities’ ability to source and temporarily house people in need of emergency accommodation would have a detrimental effect on the people who are in most need of our housing services.”

The City Council confirmed that some 724 people have been accommodated on a temporary emergency basis by the City Council, including in B&Bs and hotels. This figure is from January 1 to October 22 this year. It includes repeat admissions to services and includes, “all services funded by Galway City Council”.

The following is a detailed breakdown of the cost to the Council of providing temporary emergency accommodation to people presenting as homeless in the first 10 months of 2015.

January (€335); February (€1,110); March (€6,502); April (€8,341); May (€22,200); June (€18,650); July (€25,767); August (€27,244); September (€28,492); and October (€22,078).

Asked to explain how the City Council chooses the hotels and B&Bs, and whether it is put out to tender, a spokesperson said: “Emergency accommodation services are provided on behalf of Galway City Council by a number of voluntary bodies in the city under agreements and on an agency basis.

“The voluntary bodies source additional emergency housing beyond their own capacity to accommodate as needs present on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. The sourcing of this additional emergency accommodation is undertaken by the voluntary bodies.”

The Galway City Tribune has the right to appeal the decision of the Council with the Information Commissioner.

CITY TRIBUNE

Allegations over Galway homeless hub that’s nominated for award

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A unique social housing development in the city, which has been nominated for an award, was the subject of complaints and allegations by a resident living there.

The Westside Modular Family Hub has been shortlisted for the Irish Council of Social Housing Allianz Community Housing Awards 2021.

Opened in May last year, the purpose-built family homeless service was developed by Galway City Council and Peter McVerry Trust with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and the Housing Agency.

The 15 units were installed at a cost of €2 million after what Galway City Council described as, “extensive public consultation and engagement with local residents and local representatives in advance and during the project to ensure all issues of concern were addressed”.

In a press release announcing the accommodation was nominated for an award, the City Council said that, “there is strong support from the local community for the development”.

It has been nominated for an award, which is determined by public vote.

However, it has emerged that at least one resident of the hub complained to the City Council about anti-social behaviour.

The resident made allegations of drug-taking, late-night house parties and drinking, and fighting earlier this summer.

The resident detailed an alleged attack in which a woman bit another woman’s shoulder and an ambulance was required.

The complainant also said that families were not being moved-on to longer-term accommodation within six months.

The complaints were made to the Housing Department at City Hall and it’s understood they were referred on to the service-provider, Peter McVerry Trust.

A Peter McVerry Trust spokesperson said: “The service offers good quality accommodation and professional supports to homeless families. Since opening the service in May 2020 we have supported 28 families, comprising of 38 adults and 60 children and helped 13 families move into housing with a further move-on expected in the coming week.

“From time to time issues do arise within the service, and PMVT staff will speedily and assertively respond to such issues to support and protect all residents as best we can. We have 24/7 staff supports on site, intensive key worker assistance and household specific care plans in place. Ultimately, our priority for each family in our care at Westside is to secure a housing pathway for them in order to exit homelessness.”

Asked for comment, a City Council spokesperson said: “I am advised by colleagues in the Housing Directorate that any issues that may arise in the Hub are dealt with by Peter McVerry Trust who are the service providers of this facility and a service level agreement is in place to deal with any issues that may arise.”

When the 15 units were installed in 2020, City Councillor Colette Connolly highlighted at a Council meeting that there was a leak in the roof of some of the homes. The Council confirmed “water ingress” in windows in a number of the units, which would be rectified by the supplier at no additional cost to the local authority.

Announcing the award nomination last week, the Council said the hub was designed to “temporarily house families while they seek a long-term solution to their housing need,” with the assistance of the Peter McVerry Trust management who are on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It features 15 own-door two-bed and three-bed units, each with a kitchen, dining space and bathroom. There is also an on-site playground.

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Connacht Tribune

Ethics Officer finds FF councillors did nothing wrong with €180,000 pot

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Four Fianna Fáil councillors in the Tuam area accused by colleagues of ‘hijacking’ a €180,000 fund, have been told they did nothing wrong.

The fund was allocated to Tuam Municipal Council as part of a €1 million allocation by the Government to the county’s five municipal councils in order to “strengthen municipal districts”.

While the other area councils agreed amongst themselves on where the money should be spent, agreement could not be reached.

Instead, the four Fianna Fáil councillors, who have control of the seven-member Tuam Municipal Council, decided where the money should be allocated, which infuriated the other three members.

The matter was referred to the Ethics Officer of Galway County Council who was asked to investigate if this contravened the Minister’s direction as to how the money should be spent.

Now, Fianna Fáil Chairman of Tuam Council, Cllr Donagh Killilea, has been informed that they did not contravene the ethical framework for local government and it was a democratic decision.

He said that it was a needless and expensive route to ask the Council’s Ethics Officer to investigate how they conduct their business as local representatives “given that there was never any clear evidence of wrong-doing.”

When the dispersal of the €180,000 was being discussed by the Tuam area councillors, it was the four Fianna Fáil members who used their majority vote to dictate where the money would be spent – the other three councillors were ‘left out in the cold’.

This infuriated Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG), Cllr Pete Roche (FG) and Cllr Karey McHugh (Ind) who accused the Fianna Fáil councillors of pulling ‘a political stunt’.

They also took issue with the fact that the other municipal districts arrived at a general consensus as to how the money should be spent.

A ‘behind closed doors’ meeting between the seven councillors to discuss the dispersal of the fund that was agreed, but it never took place.

In prompted Cllr Reddington to table a motion at a full Galway County Council meeting that the Ethics Officer investigate the manner in which the distribution of the €180,000 was being handled.

A report from Council Chief Executive Jim Cullen states that the Ethics Officer investigated the claims that the €180,000 was unfairly distributed between the four FF councillors.

But the official concluded that the matter was discussed at length and that the decision on the allocation of the funds was determined by a majority vote of the members.

The officer stated that the decision was based on a motion that was voted upon and duly carried and complied with the Minister’s requirements.

The Chief Executive along with the Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, Cllr Peter Keaveney, having considered the Ethics Officer’s report, have concluded that no further action is required.

“If every time we call for an investigation when a vote is won or lost, it is my opinion that we will never get any business done as a Municipal.

“It’s time to bury the sour grapes and get on with representing the people who elected us; the distractions of the past six months have to end,” Cllr Killilea added.

(Photo: Cllr Donagh Killilea)

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Connacht Tribune

Coffins have to brought by tractor over flooded North Galway road

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Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) and Cllr Peter Keaveney (FG) at the Creggs road out of Glenamaddy where flooding occurs on an annual basis.

Annual flooding on a stretch of road in North Galway requires the necessity for a tractor and trailer to bring the remains of a deceased person from the area to the local cemetery.

This was the claim at a local area meeting when it was demanded that Galway County Council carry out flood relief works on the road near Glenamaddy which is left under several feet of water every winter.

It resulted in Cllr Peter Keaveney tabling a motion at the Ballinasloe Municipal Council meeting that essential drainage works take place along the Roscommon road out of the town now that water levels are low. He wants this carried out within the next two weeks.

During one of the worst winters in recent years, the road was closed for three months and the Fine Gael councillor and agricultural contractor said that he pulled around 20 cars out of the flooded stretch when motorists decided to take the chance of driving through it.

Even in drought conditions, the levels remain incredibly high and this is mainly down to a local turlough that retains water throughout the year.

While he said that Galway County Council officials were extremely helpful, the problem lay with the Office of Public Works who would not allow drainage works as the road is situated in a Special Area of Conservation.

Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell informed the meeting that Galway County Council are in a position to carry out some works but there are certain areas that only the Office of Public Works can drain.

Mr Mitchell said that the best way forward was a co-ordinated approach involving the County Council and the OPW while accepting that there was a major problem with flooding along this road.

In response, Cllr Keaveney said that this was a very acceptable move and added that a joint approach to the flooding in Glenamaddy was required at this stage and particularly with the winter approaching.

Williamstown’s Cllr Declan Geraghty said that residents were living in hell as some of them saw their houses destroyed by rising flood waters near Glenamaddy.

“There are even deceased people being brought by tractor and trailer to be buried which is an absolute disgrace. There is an opportunity to do this now or otherwise we are looking at flooding for the next 10 years.

“People have put everything into their homes only to see them destroyed when it comes to prolonged heavy rainfall.

“There is a solution to this problem and environmental issues should not take precedence,” he added.

The Independent councillor said that raising the level of the road, which leads to Creggs and onto Roscommon, was not the answer to the problem because the levels were so high.

Galway County Council have carried out several surveys of the area around the flooded road and officials told previous meetings that, subject to approval from the OPW, there was an engineering solution possible.

(Photo Cllr Declan Geraghty (Ind) and Cllr Peter Keaveney (FG) at the Creggs road out of Glenamaddy where flooding occurs on an annual basis.)

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