The number of homeless people in Ireland has nearly reached 8,000
Long-time homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry has called for a state of emergency to be declared to deal with the ongoing homeless crisis.
The call comes as the latest government figures show that there are now nearly 8,000 homeless people in Ireland.
Some 2,895 of those people are children – with nearly half of the homeless population under the age of 24.
Speaking today, Fr McVerry urged the Taoiseach to call a state of emergency and deliver a cross-departmental response to the crisis:
“If we had foot and mouth disease in the morning, the Taoiseach would call an emergency,” he said.
“He would have every single department sitting around the table trying to address this problem and would ensure that within weeks the problem would be solved.
“We need to get every department and every agency sitting around a table to seriously address this problem.”
The number of homeless children in the country has nearly trebled over the past two years - and Fr McVerry warned that the public is becoming increasingly desensitised to the issue.
“You know in 2015 the number of homeless children reached 1,000 and there was an outcry,” he said. “The government said this is intolerable, we have got to do something.”
“In early 2016, the number of homeless children reached 2,000 – there was no outcry.
“We are going to reach 3,000 probably next month but we have gotten so used to having thousands of homeless children that is barely going to register unfortunately.”
A range of organisations – including children’s charity Barnardos – have called for emergency action to keep struggling families in their homes.
Fr McVerry called for the immediate introduction of legislation blocking landlords and banks from evicting families into homelessness.
He said the "family hubs" that are being opened around the country to house homeless families are a step up from hotel accommodation but warned they are by no means the answer.
“What families and children in particular need is stability,” he said. “They need routine.”
“The hubs are temporary emergency accommodation and they are not a solution.
Fianna Fáil has warned that the latest figures show that the government’s housing strategy is “deeply flawed.”
"This Government has too little empathy for the needs of these families or children,” said the party’s spokesperson on housing, Barry Cowen.
“They continue to refuse to build social housing, and all the while there are thousands of families who are forced to sleep in cars, in friends’ sitting rooms, or in cramped B&B rooms.
“They simply are not treating this issue with the high level response or urgency that it requires.”
Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have again called on the government to abandon its reliance on the private market and immediately begin constructing a meaningful supply of social and affordable housing.
The Government’s Rebuilding Ireland plan includes a commitment to deliver 47,000 new social housing units by 2021.
A government statement said the family hubs provide better short-term accommodation solutions for families than can be delivered in hotels - while longer-term accommodation options are identified and secured.
It said the number of homeless families in commercial hotels and B&Bs in the Dublin Region had fallen from a high of 870 at the end of March to 638 at the end of June.
Further family hub facilities are due to come on stream in the coming months.
The overall number of people in emergency accommodation in Ireland increased from 7,699 to 7,941 during June.
Reporting from Rachel O'Brien