Homelessness figures ‘unbelievably frustrating’, says Taoiseach

Opposition says Murphy’s position is ‘untenable’, claims Government making crisis worse

‘The majority of people being made homeless are coming predominantly from the private sector,’ Fr McVerry said

‘The majority of people being made homeless are coming predominantly from the private sector,’ Fr McVerry said

 

The continuing rise in the number of homeless people is “unbelievably frustrating”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.

He said figures released by the Department of Housing on Wednesday had showed a “very disturbing increase” in the number of homeless people.

There are now almost 10,000 people homeless across Ireland, including 3,755 children, according to the monthly homelessness report from the department. It said for the week of 20th to 26th February there were 9,807 people homeless, including 3,755 children in 1,739 families.

This compares with the week ending on January 28th, when there were 9,104 people homeless, including 3,267 children in 1,517 families.

In February 2017, there were 7,421 people homeless, including 2,546 children in 1,239 families.

This represents a 32 per increase in overall homelessness, a 40 per cent increase in family homelessness, and a 47 per cent increase in the number of homeless children.

Mr Varadkar was responding to a question from Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty at this morning’s Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting, where the Taoiseach is appearing to discuss estimates at his Department, RTÉ reports.

“What we are not seeing is the kind of results we would like to see. That is unbelievably frustrating,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the problem is getting worse and the trend is in the wrong direction.

Mr Doherty said that homelessness has “increased for children by 100 per cent,” since the last election.

Mr Varadkar responded saying, “We are acting, we are not getting the results we need so we need to do more, but I am convinced that you would make a bad situation worse.”

Murphy’s position ‘untenable’

Later in the Dáil, Mr Doherty claimed that the position of Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy “is becoming increasingly untenable”.

Mr Doherty made the allegation during sharp exchanges as the significant increase in the number of homeless families dominated Leaders’ Questions.

But Tánaiste Simon Coveney accused him of turning a significant issue for the House and the Government into a party political issue.

He said Government determination to change the homelessness situation is “stronger than it’s ever been”.

He said the budget had increased by 50 per cent last year, there was a €6 billion commitment, and “no lack of will”.

Mr Doherty claimed that the Government was not only not getting to grips with homelessness but “some of your actions and inactions are making things worse”.

He said the Government was offered over 1,800 homes in turnkey condition but bought just 400. He said a pledge was made to build 10,000 new social houses every year but just 50 per cent had been delivered.

And the Government was asked to accept Focus Ireland’s amendment to legislation to protect tenants at risk of homelessness but with Fianna Fail’s support “you voted it down”.

He told Tánaiste Simon Coveney that “every time you are given a solution to the homelessness crisis you look the other way and this is why the number of adults and children has escalated under your reign.”

He asked: “What level of child homelessness do we have to reach in this State before Minister Murphy’s’ position becomes untenable?”

‘Cold comfort to those without a home’

Rounding on Mr Doherty the Tánaiste said “you’re trying to turn a very significant policy challenge for this House and indeed this Government into a party political issue, as usual”.

He said that last year the State bought 2,266 houses, an increase of 181 per cent on previous years, and is focussing on acquisitions this year to increase social housing the in short-term.

Mr Coveney said “ this Government will not stop prioritising this area until the issue is comprehensively resolved”.

Mr Coveney earlier disputed figures from Fianna Fail’s Seán Fleming about how the new rebuilding home loan scheme was working.

Mr Fleming, chairman of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee said the figures the Tánaiste quoted about families taken out of homelessness was cold comfort to those without a home at this point.

He said if the Government planned to build 100,000 homes over the next 10 years it would take a decade to clear the housing list without any new people on the list.

Mr Coveney said there were no figures available yet for the home loan scheme but Mr Fleming said the scheme “has got off to a bad start”.

He said he had figures including 10 refusals from different local authorities. He said the authorities “are refusing right, left and centre”.

Mr Coveney said rough sleepers were down 50 per cent and that much better emergency accommodation had been put in.

‘I don’t know how he’s sleeping at night’

Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says Mr Murphy should ask the Minister for Health Simon Harris for sleeping tablets “as I don’t know how he’s sleeping at night.”

Fr McVerry called for emergency legislation making it illegal to evict tenants who have been paying their rent.

“It should be made illegal to evict people on to the streets. We need emergency legislation. This is a state of emergency. The majority of people being made homeless are coming predominantly from the private sector,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

He added that to be fair to landlords there should also be a way to fast track cases for drug dealing or anti-social behaviour.

Fr McVerry had been responding to an interview with Mr Murphy who said that new measures are being considered to help speed up the process of housing homeless families.

“We’re looking at protection for people being evicted for renovations. People can’t take advantage of loopholes. We’re looking at incentives to get landlords to sell properties with tenants in situ.

“There is a huge increase in the number of apartments being built,” he added.

The Minister also defended the focus on the building of student accommodation pointing out that it will free up accommodation for others in the system.

The problem remains the lack of houses, he said. “A huge amount of work is being done by NGOs and at least 25,000 houses are going to be built before 2019. This year we will help at least 26,000 people into new homes,” he said.

“We’re trying to improve things, moving legislation for protections, but we can’t force this.”

He warned that situation will get worse until more houses are built.