Housing Minister denies attempt to "bury" homelessness figures

Eoghan Murphy admitted the country is "dealing with unprecedented levels of homelessness."

Housing Minister denies attempt to "bury" homelessness figures

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Minister for Housing has rejected claims that the government attempted to bury the latest statistics on homelessness.

It comes after the Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin accused the minister of "deliberately trying to bury bad news" by releasing the June homeless figures late last Friday - as the public was preparing for a Bank Holiday Weekend.

The stark figures revealed that there were almost 8,000 people in emergency accommodation last month - including nearly 3,000 children.

Nearly half of the people recorded as homeless were under the age of 24.

The figures were met with dismay by a range of homeless and children's charities with long-time campaigner Fr Peter McVerry urging the Taoiseach to call a national emergency to deal with the crisis.

Unprecedented homeless crisis

In a statement today, Minister Murphy said the country is currently "dealing with unprecedented levels of homelessness."

"The idea that the Government might try to hide this from the general public, seek to down-play the scale or turn away from it, does not take account of the huge amount of time and resources already being dedicated to this crisis," he said.

He said the recent announcement of an additional €10m in funding would see the introduction of more emergency 'family hubs' which will be able to accommodate an additional 200 families.

He said the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is also working on several policies that will deliver over 150 additional emergency spaces.

He insisted the emergency measures are being taken while longer term solutions are found.

The Rebuilding Ireland plan has ring-fenced €5.3bn for housing and homelessness plans up until 2021.

The minister said those plans are currently under review and will be brought forward for debate in the Oireachtas "shortly."

Not the answer

Yesterday newly released data on homelessness from Census 2016 revealed that 17% of people recorded as homeless were employed.

The data also showed that a quarter of the homeless population was under the age 18.

Fr McVerry has warned that while the government's family hubs are a step up from hotel accommodation, they are still a temporary emergency solution and are not the answer.

He called for the immediate introduction of legislation blocking landlords and banks from evicting families into homelessness.

National scandal

In a statement this afternoon, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Children & Youth Affairs Anne Rabbitte said the number of families and children without a permanent home is "now a national scandal."

She noted that Census 2016 recorded 15% of the total housing stock across the country as vacant.

"This is shameful," she said. "But it does provide an opportunity for the relatively quick turnaround of these units into homes."

she called on the government to "widen its scope" and get behind her party's Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill 2017 which aims to speed up the development of older, vacant unit in towns and city centres.

She also called for the use of compulsory purchase orders (CPO) to bring vacant housing stock back into use.

"We need to see renewed CPO powers given to local authorities to take over the management of a long term vacant property, for a specified period and under certain strict criteria for the public good," she said.

"The property owners would be paid rent for the duration of the order, minus the costs of refurbishing and managing the building."

Both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have renewed calls on the government to abandon its reliance on the private market and immediately begin constructing a meaningful supply of social and affordable housing.