Belfast Telegraph

Homeless people's deaths being treated with utmost seriousness, minister says

The deaths of two homeless people in 24 hours is being treated with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity, housing minister Eoghan Murphy has said.

A 26-year-old mother, who had accepted a recent offer of a house from South Dublin County Council, was found dead in a hotel room in Leixlip, Co Kildare on Wednesday afternoon.

It is understood she had been placed there in emergency accommodation with her children.

Following that tragedy, Jack Watson, as he asked to be known, died after being found unconscious on Suffolk Street in Dublin at 4am on Thursday.

Aged in his 50s, he had returned from Australia in 2015 and had connections with the UK. He had been supported over the last two years by homeless agencies and often sought a bed in shelters or slept rough on the inner city streets.

For a short time he lived in Apollo House, the vacant building taken over by the Home Sweet Home campaign last Christmas, and helped in the kitchens.

Homelessness charity the Peter McVerry Trust said deaths among homeless people are not uncommon and it was aware of 19 homeless people who died in various circumstances last year.

In the wake of the most recent deaths Focus Ireland said a record number of 1,178 families with 2,423 children are now homeless in Dublin.

Ninety nine families with 214 children became newly homeless in July alone.

Amid criticisms of a lack of social housing and questions over whether there was enough emergency capacity in shelters, hostels and elsewhere for homeless people, the minister offered condolences to relatives.

"We are treating this with the utmost seriousness and sensitivity and providing them with every assistance that we can," Mr Murphy said.

"The unprecedented levels of homelessness that we are witnessing is totally unacceptable. The Government and my department, working with the local authorities, voluntary sector and other stakeholders, are doing everything we can - but I know that we need to do more.

"There is no shortage of will or determination to deal with this issue. Resources and funding are not an obstacle to the urgent efforts required."

Mr Murphy said a n emergency summit on housing would be held in the Custom House next week.

The heads of the country's 31 local authorities and senior civil servants in his department will discuss additional solutions to alleviate the unprecedented crisis.

Mr Watson was photographed by Geza Oravecz as part of the Beautiful Day in Dublin initiative.

The voluntary project involved B arry Caesar, owner of Westend Barbers, inviting rough sleepers to spend a day being fed, cleaned up, bought new clothes and on occasion put up in a hotel for the night.

They met Mr Watson several months ago and he had been in the barber shop in the last week for a haircut and was well dressed.

"He seemed in grand form. He didn't seem down," Mr Caesar said.

"He was the wrong guy to be on the streets, he just did not seem the type that should be living in a sleeping bag.

"It's like he was someone's da, someone's husband, or like he lived down the street. It just did not fit.

"He was almost too proud to be homeless and he shouldn't have been, for whatever reason."

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