THE chairperson of the St Joseph’s School Board of Management has contacted Waterford Council’s Homeless Services Department to express disappointment about how the school has been treated in relation to the recent opening of a homeless services ‘hub’ at the former Bank of Ireland premises on Parnell Street.
In the letter, which has been seen by the Waterford News & Star, Fr Edmund Cullinan says that the Board of Management “deeply regret” and consider it “ill judged”, that they were not consulted well in advance of the centre opening.
“We as a board are acutely aware of the plight of those who are homeless or those threatened with eviction,” Fr Cullinan said. “Our work with special needs children gives us real insight into vulnerable sections of our community. We recognise homeless persons as a very vulnerable group. However, the provision of services for one group should not impinge on the services to another. While we welcome the initiative to have multidisciplinary services for the homeless in one central location, we feel that the location is not appropriate.”
The letter listed a number of reasons why they believe that the location should have been reconsidered.
“As a special school we promote life skills and independence skills among the pupils. Our aim is to eventually give as many pupils as possible the opportunity to perform daily living skills outside of school. With the change of use of this premises the potential for negative or unsafe encounters is increased. This has resulted in our curtailment of our life skills programme,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately the school was given less than one week’s notice of the commencement of this new service giving us insufficient time to have our concerns raised in advance. This resulted in many of our parents raising very serious issues which the school could not resolve.”
At a recent meeting of school management, parents and the Integrated Services providers, a number of concerns were raised that centred on “pupil safety” and the school’s “ability to deliver its full programme of education”. It was decided, upon the meeting’s end, that locating the service beside a special school “was not appropriate”.
“We feel that there must be alternative premises available in the city,” Fr Cullinan said before demanding a number of protective measures, which he said should be “put in place without delay”.
The demands included, “Full time security personnel to be employed by the centre to ensure every person’s security and safety during their business hours and, in particular, to prevent inappropriate encounters involving our pupils and clients of the centre.”
Fr Cullinan also requested a risk assessment with regard to the school and a “confirmation in writing that staff at the new location are competently trained to manage any crisis situation that may arise.”
The Waterford News & Star contacted Waterford City & County Council for a response to this letter, which was also sent to Minister for Disability Issues Finian McGrath and the Ombudsman for Children Office. They stated that, “Waterford City and County Council would be issuing a response to the Board of Management at St Joseph’s in the coming days.”