Between 40 and 50 homeless people die every year in Ireland and “each one is a tragedy and very sad”, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil.
He said the deaths could be as a result of physical health problems, addiction overdose, mental health issues, suicide or violence and this showed it was “such a complex social issue and is not just a simple matter of providing shelter or housing”.
He agreed with Peter McVerry Trust figures that seven people had died in the past 12 weeks.
The Taoiseach added that it was a difficult problem faced all over the world.
He also insisted cost was not a factor in dealing with housing and homelessness but a problem with the capacity of the building sector to construct houses.
He said he was “deeply saddened” at the deaths of two homeless men in Dublin on Monday and Tuesday.
He noted one of the men, in his late 30s and sleeping rough in the Four Courts, was reported in The Irish Times to be a Lithuanian national "and may have died as a result of a drug overdose".
The cause of death of the other homeless man who died in Ranelagh was unknown “and we do understand that he had been offered shelter”, the Taoiseach said.
Independent TD Joan Collins had highlighted the deaths of the two men and said it was time for the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy and his department “to get up off their backsides and implement a programme of public housing”.
She said 40,000 homes could be built on public land which has zoning for housing and in Dublin alone 12,000 houses could be built on existing public land. The cost of building an average home, apart from the land price, was between €180,000 and €200,000, and 40,000 homes could be built over the next few years for between €7 billion and €8 billion if the political will was there to find the money.
Rainy day fund
Ms Collins said that €1.3 billion had been set aside for a “rainy day” fund and more than 3,000 homeless children were counted as being in “rainy day” circumstances.
But, Mr Varadkar said: “We have more than €8 billion for housing which will allow us to build 3,000 social houses”.
“The issue we’re going to be running into is not money at all,” the Taoiseach said. “The issue we’re going to be running into is the capacity of the building sector to actually build all these homes.”
Mr Varadkar said about 60 permanent hostel beds were available from Wednesday night in Dublin city centre at Little Britain Street for people sleeping rough and another 60 would be available in Cabra by the end of the week.
He said 200 single or double rooms would be in place by December 18th for those sleeping on the street.
“We want to get to a position where we’re assured that there will be a bed available and shelter for everyone who needs it over the winter period and into the spring and summer as well,” he said.