The Mayor of Athlone has described as “frightening” and “sad” a situation where a local homeless family, including a number of children, were brought to Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, last week by Athlone Gardai because they had nowhere else to go.
Cllr Frankie Keena said the bottom line is that homelessness is now a major problem and hospitals are not the place to tackle it.
He suggested that it may be time for the local authority to re-examine the arrangements in place for after-hours and emergency cases and he intends to raise that issue as soon as possible.
While he understands that the large family were given bed and breakfast vouchers by Westmeath County Council earlier, on the night in question they were unfortunately unable to find a B&B and came to the garda barracks as a result.
Sgt Andrew Haran from Athlone Garda Station confirmed ent that a large extended family presented to Athlone Garda Station as homeless last Wednesday night at 10.30pm.
The family were made up of people of varying ages, including a number of children.
HOW THE WESTMEATH INDEPENDENT BROKE THE STORY EARLIER THIS WEEK.
While Mayor Keena said the local authority has an after-hours arrangement with outside bodies like Simon in terms of emergency accommodation, however, if that or bed and breakfasts are full, which they frequently are now, this kind of sad situation can arise.
In the normal course of events, a family who present homeless during working hours would be sent to the council to seek emergency accommodation, according to Sgt Andrew Haran, however, that does not happen after-hours.
He continued that the station simply does not have the facilities to take people in, so in this scenario their protocol is that the family are brought to a “designated place of safety” that is Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe where they are then handed over to the HSE, and that's end of the involvement of the Gardai.
When asked if this facility is used often by Gardai, he said it is “extremely rare” and he cannot recall a similar incident in recent years.
Since then, Mayor Frankie Keena said he understands that accommodation has been found for the family in conjunction with the HSE.
However, when asked whether homelessness is an issue a crowded hospital should have to address, Mayor Keena said he is firmly of the view that this problem should be solved by the local authority and the department.
“The hospitals are up to their tonsils already dealing with sick people and the trolley crisis. It is something that should be addressed by the local authority.
“They (hospitals) have enough to handle without having to house homeless people,” he complained.
“It's a frightening and sad situation. We need to address this issue (homelessness). I intend to raise this issue at the next Housing SPC to see whether we need to relook at our policies and how to address after-hours situations,” he explained.
A spokesperson for the Saolta University Health Care Group, who manage Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, said they could not comment on the situation when asked several questions about where the family were subsequently accommodated.
Westmeath County Council had not responded to queries on the case either at the time of going to press (Tuesday).