CITY Hall has denied it has cut funds to homeless shelters who want to bring in additional staff during periods of cold weather.
It comes in response to a motion from Cllr Cian Prendiville calling for funding for Novas - which operates McGarry House and the Brother Russell Home - to continue its cold weather service.
This sees the charity bring in extra staff on cold nights to allow residents sleep in communal and reception areas even when all beds in a hostel are occupied.
While the problem of rough sleeping was less acute in Limerick than in other cities, Cllr Prendiville, Anti-Austerity Alliance, said; “there are still people sleeping rough in some places and other people in squats”.
Those who chose not to engage with homeless services “sometimes change their minds” when temperatures dipped towards freezing, he told a meeting of the Limerick metropolitan area.
“The cold weather agreement is there to ensure that when it goes below two degrees, the charity can bring in an extra member of staff so that people can come in and sleep on a couch or in a sleeping bag in reception,” Cllr Prendiville said.
Having spoken with Novas staff, Cllr Prendiville was now concerned that “the standing agreement” the charity believed it had with the council to fund the extra staff had been discontinued.
“I’m told it costs €155 per night to provide that cover on cold nights but for whatever reason it hasn’t continued this year,” he said.
In her reply, director of service Caroline Curley pointed out that other NGOs providing emergency accommodation - including Thomond House and St Vincent de Paul - had been part of the cold weather agreement for a number of years.
“NGOs may seek costs to provide additional staff members to cover night shifts to ensure adequate health and safety is maintained in their facility; the local authority deals with such requests on an individual basis,” Ms Curley stated.
She went on to state that Novas received just under €1 million in annual funding from Limerick City and County Council to provide a range of services to the homeless and an additional €1.2 million per year from the HSE.
A review of homeless services in the region was seeking to align them with the national policy of a housing-based approach, Ms Curley said, although she accepted there would always be a need for some level of emergency accommodation.
Cllr Prendiville said that while he agreed with the move towards more permanent accommodation, there was a more immediate problem to be dealt with in Limerick.
“There was a standing agreement with Novas that they could bring in an extra member of staff when it fell below two degrees. But they have now been told that agreement will not continue. They are being told ‘you have already got €1 million from us and sort it out yourselves’,” said Cllr Prendiville.
Rob Lowth, co-ordinator of homeless services, Limerick City and County Council, assured Cllr Prendiville that “organisations can still make applications on a case-by-case basis”.
“We have a large budget and in terms of cold weather, there are systems in place for dealing with additional capacity over the winter cycle,” Mr Lowth said.
The government, he added, was making additional funds available for homeless services in the wake of the recent death - close to Leinster House - of Jonathan Corrie.
When Cllr Prendiville continued to press the issue, Mayor Sheahan urged him to place his trust in Mr Lowth and his team - who all agreed were doing great work - that systems were in place to cater for emergency accommodation needs during cold weather.