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Homeless charity faces uncertain future after co-founder dies

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Inside and outside the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Seán McDermott Street, members of the North Dublin city center community lined up in numbers to mark Anthony Flynn’s funeral at the end of August.

The funeral mass heard stories of the 34-year-old giving the clothes off his back to sleepers on the streets, while walking the streets with the homeless charity he created, Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH).

Independent counselor Christy Burke, delivering the eulogy, spoke of an occasion when Flynn “took off his shoes” to give them to a homeless man lying on a cardboard box.

These stories of a dedicated community activist and tireless worker for the homeless now contrast with allegations that Flynn sexually assaulted a number of men in his work with the homeless charity. -shelter.

The allegations had started circulating before his death. Flynn grew up on Dorset Street and previously worked as a bartender at Lloyd’s, his family’s pub on Amiens Street in north Dublin city center.

As the co-founder and later CEO of ICHH, he rose to prominence as a voice frequently heard on radio condemning the homelessness crisis and its effects on those affected.

He was elected to Dublin City Council (DCC) as an independent in 2019, frequently clashing with council leadership and government over housing policy.

The ICHH was founded in late 2013, in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of Dublin, starting with a soup kitchen and progressing to an office on Amiens Street that distributed clothes, sleeping bags and food.

He also offered help to people on the street to find housing. In a few years, the ICHH has become essential in the landscape of the homelessness crisis, with 200 volunteers and three full-time employees.

Operated with less than € 40,000 in funds in 2014, it has grown into an organization that had almost € 900,000 in revenue last year and a surplus of over € 360,000. Throughout, his “brand” depended heavily on Flynn.

Limits

A senior official at a large homeless charity said ICHH had taken a “heart-and-sleeve” approach. Although it was run by well-meaning volunteers, its philosophy of leaving no one behind had its downsides when it came to setting limits. In cases where families struggled to find emergency accommodation, sleeping in the association’s office was often the fallback solution.

In hindsight, there had been a blurring of the lines between those the association sought to help and the volunteers and staff, an ICHH source said.

In May this year, two men came to Gardaí to claim they had been sexually assaulted by Flynn, triggering a criminal investigation.

The charity didn’t learn of the ongoing investigation until early August, when Flynn was suspended.

In the days that followed, media reports surfaced that the ICHH had suspended an employee, with separate reports that Gardaí was investigating a politician in Dublin for allegations of sexual assault.

Although Flynn is not named, he was quickly linked to the allegations on social media and the following week was found dead in tragic circumstances at his home.

After his death, two other men came forward to claim that they had been sexually assaulted by the founder of ICHH.

It is understood that three of the four alleged assaults linked to incidents this year, one of which is believed to have taken place in 2020. In several of the cases, the men were taken to Flynn’s home overnight by taxi.

An internal report from David Hall, former president of ICHH, said Flynn had secured accommodation through the charity for two of the alleged victims.

Flynn reportedly texted one of the men seeking sex, while the man was homeless and hosted by ICHH. Another alleged victim, who had turned to Flynn for help as she faced deportation, was later allegedly sexually assaulted by him, according to the report.

The days following Flynn’s death on August 18 saw a wave of grief from the local community, who sought to rally with one of their own. A vigil was held outside the association’s office, with several hundred people gathered to throw balloons and Chinese lanterns into the air.

There was also anger towards Hall over handling Flynn’s suspension. In the days following Flynn’s death, Gardaí advised Hall to avoid returning to the office or downtown, due to the threats, which ultimately led to him stepping down as president.

TD Social Democrats Gary Gannon said the past few weeks have “been probably one of the most difficult and emotional times downtown I can remember.”

Many people have devoted enormous time and trust to the charity, “which has been shattered,” he told the Irish Times. Gannon said there had to be an acknowledgment of the allegations that people were “being injured in the most cruel and exploitative ways.”

Dublin Central TD was one of three people appointed as new directors to the charity’s board of directors, all of whom then withdrew from the review. He added that the services provided by ICHH were “absolutely essential” and their need would not go away if the charity was dissolved.

A flood of resignations from its board of directors has left the charity with only one director remaining.

Lawyer Remy Farrell had been tasked with investigating how the case had been handled as this work was ongoing but at an early stage. Now the association intends to ask the High Court to appoint an inspector to investigate its cases and produce a report on its future.

Controversial figure

Among the most established homeless organizations, Flynn was a controversial figure.

While the enthusiasm of the ICHH volunteers in braving the cold nights to provide food or sleeping bags to the homeless has been praised, some have expressed concerns about a lack of structure.

Others in the sector, as well as DCC officials, have expressed grievances over the ICHH approach, believing that rough sleepers should be urged to engage with the services, rather. than being helped with sleeping bags or sandwiches.

There was a boom in the number of volunteer groups seeking to help the homeless after the death of homeless Jonathan Currie, who was found dead in a doorway near Leinster House in late 2014.

Pat Doyle, CEO of Peter McVerry Trust, said at the time there was less funding for homeless organizations, but services are now “vastly different”.

“The landscape has changed since, there are no more shelters reserved for the night,” he said.

Doyle said groups set up to provide food or supplies to street sleepers should be “monitored, regulated and licensed” by local authorities. “Why do we think it’s safe to let people swing around and start distributing food or working with the most vulnerable,” he said.

“I think if you are a volunteer or a paid employee, who works with vulnerable people, you have to be trained, fully supervised, fully supervised,” he added.

Brendan Kenny, DCC deputy director general and housing manager, said the local authority wanted to regulate homeless groups, favoring a “permit system” that would offer greater accountability.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, the state agency for the homeless in Dublin, has called for the liquidation of the ICHH “as soon as possible”. The association had “no future” even if it was renamed or restructured, Kenny said.

As homeless authorities fear there are still more alleged victims to come forward, a spokeswoman for Garda said that at present, gardaí “is not investigating further complaints. “.

Others in the homeless sector said they suspected ICHH was getting caught up in a controversy of some nature given its rapid expansion: “[But] I never thought it would be this bad, ”said a senior executive at a homeless charity.

Prior to the allegations against Flynn, the ICHH had been viewed by some as being on the “lower rungs” of the ladder, beginning to move from a group led by less experienced volunteers to a larger, professional charity.

Peter McVerry had started in the same way, not professionalizing his services until the beginning of the 2000s, before being today at the head of a very professional organization.

One of the strengths of the ICHH was its ability to exceed its weight in fundraising, deriving significant income from donations, in large part thanks to the public relations profile generated by Flynn.

It had partnerships with several large companies, such as the operator Luas Transdev. Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin, who declined to comment, donated the royalties from his book on the housing crisis to the charity.

However, since its income came mainly from donations, it was not subject to external control or audit requirements related to state funding.

Day center

Before the allegations were made public, the ICHH was at an advanced stage of planning to open a day center, which would provide food, showers and washing machines to the homeless.

A location on Parnell Square had been chosen and the charity intended to seek funding for the project from the council, sources said. The plans were scrapped when the current controversy emerged.

Flynn had also started internal discussions earlier this year about the possibility of ICHH providing targeted services for LGBT + homeless people. It is understood that he was reviewing several grants that the charity could apply for, to fund work in support of LGBT + youth. With hindsight, some members of the association are now expressing their discomfort with these proposals, in light of the allegations.

For those Flynn helped, the allegations of sexual assault are hard to reconcile with the memory of someone who “fought everyone’s case.”

When Josh Daly, his partner Jade O’Connor and their four children, were homeless and showed up on the steps of the ICHH office, Flynn helped them find housing.

“He did a lot for us, he never left us nowhere to go,” said Daly, recalling Flynn as a “genuine” man, who “would go out of his way” to help people.

Within the association, several senior officials believe that it has little hope of surviving the scandal and that its services should be taken over by other providers.

The controversy has left many struggling to reconcile their memories of Flynn’s “passion” for tackling homelessness, alongside questions now as to whether that work had been a cover for alleged abuse.


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