Local authorities short of staff to match refugees, says Red Cross

Local authorities have not provided the manpower required to connect Ukrainian refugees with landlords who promise housing.

Most local authorities tasked with matching landlords with Ukrainian families provide fewer staff than the Irish Red Cross recommends.

Irish Red Cross general secretary Liam O’Dwyer said he was disappointed with the “slow” progress of local authorities in matching landlords with Ukrainian families.

Mr O’Dwyer said “a minimum of four people” should be working in each local authority on refugee accommodation, but figures released by councils show a majority are understaffed for the process.

While counties such as Waterford, which employs eight people, lead the pack with a third of ‘activated’ landlord commitments, other local authorities, such as Roscommon, lag behind with full-time staff and two part-time allocated, activating only 7% of pledges.

On the basis of the figures communicated to the Irish Examiner by the Ministry of Integration on October 24, local authorities acting independently – or without significant assistance from non-governmental organizations – matched relatively fewer families.

Local authorities acting mostly independently matched 15% of pledges received from landlords, while councils aided by the Peter McVerry Trust and the International Organization for Migration matched 16% and 19% respectively.

The International Organization for Migration assists many counties with large urban areas which may explain the higher pass rates.

Clare County Council, which works closely with the Mid-West Simon Community, matched 22 pledges out of more than 350 bids.

Cork County Council has received by far the most pledges, but only a fraction of Ukrainians have been relocated.

In total, 81 of the 1,194 commitments reviewed by the Board were activated.

A spokesperson for the Irish Red Cross said it helps all councils with the matchmaking process when requested by local authorities, but is “widespread” across the country.

The spokesperson said: “Ukrainians are unwilling to leave hotels as many have formed small communities with all necessary amenities and transport provided or nearby, and in some rural areas it would not be fair to move people there.”

In a statement to Irish Examiner“All efforts are being made to activate the appropriate pledge offers and the necessary verification and inspection procedures have been completed,” said a Absorption Ministry spokesperson.

In response to questions about staffing at the International Organization for Migration and the Peter McVerry Trust, the spokesperson said he was “unable to provide” this information, but said that staff were not “not deployed in a fixed manner and their location was changing in relation to the work that needs to be done in each locality”.

For more information on helping Irish hosts, go to helpirishhosts.com

“I have the impression that the advice was not pushed”

A couple who offered to host Ukrainian refugees said a “lack of communication” and “messy” organization by their local authority caused them to walk away from the state-run scheme.

Tony and Sheila Kenny say they waited weeks for a phone call after promising to share their home in March.

Afterwards, various staff from Laois County Council and the Irish Red Cross repeatedly called them asking the same questions about their family and possessions.

“At this point, we were actually considering removing our name from the list,” Ms Kennny said.

For a brief period, the Kennys hosted a Ukrainian woman and her 10-year-old son, but said the whole process was far from straightforward and little help was offered.

“They literally dropped her in the driveway,” Ms Kenny said. She said the Ukrainian woman was seriously ill at the time and needed treatment.

While she had mother and son living with her, the Irish Red Cross phoned Ms Kenny twice asking her to host a family – an experience cited by many at the Irish Examiner.

After the mother and son left in May for medical treatment in the United States, Laois County Council asked if the Kennys would “take a little break” from hosting for a month, Ms Kenny said.

“They said, ‘Look, they’re not (refugees) on the side of the street, a lot of them are in hotels and not interested in moving,'” Ms Kenny recalled.

It seemed like too much work, it was just easier to leave them at the hotel.

“I felt like they weren’t really pushed.”

The Kennys received no further communication from the council. Ms Kenny said the process was ‘incredibly stressful’, ‘all very disconnected’ and made her feel ‘totally deflated’.

“We would watch the news morning, noon and night and say, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s shocking. Ms. Kenny said another family member backed out of the housing pledge after never being contacted by a state agency.

The Laois Departmental Council did not respond to a request for comment from the Irish Examiner.

The Kennys then turned to Helping Irish Hosts, a volunteer organization made up of hosts and Ukrainians that connects families outside the state system. They now share their home with a Ukrainian mother and daughter, Katya Shelepova and her daughter Alisa Maneichyk.

“I actually have a lady on the phone who will answer any questions,” Ms Kenny said.

“It’s just nice to know they’re there… It’s not ‘Press one for this and press two for that’, Helping Irish Hosts is still there… Even until Netflix put on Ukrainian TV, they are so helpful.”

Landlords who have pledged accommodation through the state system are not getting the support they need, according to Angie Gough, chief executive and founder of Helping Irish Hosts.

She said her charity, which includes a network of more than 520 people, fills the gaps in local authorities and non-governmental organisations.

“Without them,” Ms. Kenny said, “I probably wouldn’t be hosting right now.”

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