Life in Ireland’s Emergency Accommodation


By Jason Michael


At the turn of the last century the poor of Dublin were crammed into single room tenement dwellings. Nothing much has changed. Now the poorest people in Dublin are being crammed into one room hotel suits because… well, just because.

Everyone knows the solution to Ireland’s homeless crisis. We might as well stop beating about the bush on that one. The government knows the answer and we know the answer, and the government knows that we know that they know the answer. The answer is quite simple and affordable; as the homeless crisis is fed by the housing crisis we have to solve the housing crisis by building affordable and council owned homes. What stops this from happening is the particularly disturbing reality that the Irish government is dominated by landlords and others who are invested in the housing property market who stand to lose financially if and when the housing crisis is ended. Instead of actually addressing the problem the policymakers use public money to put homeless families in “emergency accommodation” and let others rot on the streets.


As the name implies, emergency accommodation was never intended to provide people with a home. It is envisioned more as a temporary stopgap measure much like Direct Provision was intended for the asylum seekers the last Fianna Fáil regime hoped to hide from public view. Yet, like Direct Provision, the now more than 6,000 people in Ireland’s emergency accommodation are trapped in a semi-permanent – one room per family – provisional measure. It’s not free, of course. These families are being billeted in hotels and bed and breakfasts all around the country – but certainly not in conditions that can, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as luxurious. In 2015 the government spent €25m on this temporary-cum-permanent solution, handing over huge sums of our money to private hotel owners who profit by providing the bear minimum to the families living in their rooms.

Most of us have stayed in a hotel before, and we know what we can expect from a reasonably decent hotel – one that we might consider visiting again. Clean sheets, a television perhaps, a nice lobby and a bar. Maybe even a pleasant restaurant. What we don’t expect is the complete absence of these basic requirements. We definitely don’t expect to be shouted at or face being kicked out because our children were running along the corridor or playing in the elevators. The paying customer can expect a little better than this from the management. Not so for the residents living in emergency accommodation contracts in these hotels, regardless of the fact that they too are paying customers – the State is paying for them. What they get from the hotel experience is a frosty reception and institutional treatment not unlike a minimum security prison or a reform school.


HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SPOKEN TO IN BOLD CAPS? It’s infuriating. It’s patronising and controlling, and this is exactly how it is used against people living in emergency accommodation. Notices are pinned on doors and hallways – hidden from the regular clientele – reminding these most unwelcome guests in bold capitalised letters that they are not to use the front door. Their presence is to be hidden from decent guests. They are also threatened with eviction if their children are caught playing in the corridors. It goes without saying that these families have no recourse to complaint. There is no shortage of others in need of their room, and they are where they are at the discretion of the management. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

One hotel room for an entire family! What makes them obvious from the outside is the conspicuous placement of ornaments on their window ledges and families coming and going from side and back entrances with shopping and school bags. No one goes shopping in the supermarket when they are staying in a hotel. These people have to. This is their home – for the foreseeable future. What they are forced to call home is a single room, taken up for the most part with beds, in which there can be nothing approximating privacy. Children have nowhere to play or do homework and the adults can forget about the intimacy that is needed to keep them together. Not everyone has sex in hotel rooms it would appear. Nothing of this will change until we build more houses, but we all know that that isn’t going to happen any time soon. It’s easy money for the hotel industry.

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Mother and her children forced to live in hotel room as emergency accommodation


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