Homeless charity hits back at criticism from Labour TD

Peter McVerry Trust ‘disappointed, but not surprised’ by Joanna Tuffy’s comments

Focus Ireland estimates that there are up to 5,000 people at any one time who are homeless in Ireland. File photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Focus Ireland estimates that there are up to 5,000 people at any one time who are homeless in Ireland. File photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

 

The Government should put more energy into dealing with homelessness instead of criticising the performance of housing charities, the Peter McVerry Trust has said.

The organisation was responding to comments from Labour TD Joanna Tuffy that some charities should use their capacity and expertise to do more to provide social housing.

Ms Tuffy focused on the Peter Mc Verry Trust and Focus Ireland in particular, saying the charities are failing to draw down funds from the Housing and Finance Agency to build or buy social housing.

About 556 homeless families, including 1,185 children, are now in emergency accommodation in Dublin. Focus Ireland estimates that there are up to 5,000 people at any one time who are homeless in Ireland.

Peter McVerry Trust chief executive Pat Doyle said Ms Tuffy was attacking homeless charities instead of the homeless problem.

“We are bitterly disappointed, but not surprised by the decision by this Labour TD to attack homeless charities rather than tackle the homeless crisis,” he said.

Ms Tuffy said she was raising legitimate questions. “Both organisations’ funding, according to their most recent annual reports on both of their websites, comes from the State. In the case of Focus Ireland they got more than €11 million which is over 60 per cent of their funding and Peter McVerry got almost €6 million in State grants, which again is almost 60 per cent,”she said.

“I’m not attacking them. I’m raising questions. On other occasions I’d praise them for other work they do but I think I’ve raised a legitimate issue here and I think they should be open to debating it and being questioned and having these issues raised.”

Ms Tuffy said some housing charities registered as approved housing bodies are failing to borrow funds from the Housing Finance Agency for social housing.

Focus Ireland said it is an approved housing body but has not drawn down money from the Housing and Finance Agency because it is less expensive for it to borrow money from commercial banks.

“If they’re not drawing down the loans from the Housing Finance Agency then they need to explain, because if you’re a substantially State funded organisation you should be accountable and you should be open,” Ms Tuffy said.

Mr Doyle said the Peter McVerry Trust has “already informed the Housing Finance Agency before the summer that an application from the charity is in the pipeline. However, this is a lengthy and complex process that requires us to restructure the charity and its finances.”

He added: “The fact of the matter is that Peter McVerry Trust can secure funding cheaper and quicker through high street banks and we have done that twice this year to finance acquisition of properties.”

Mr Doyle said the charity is working on 96 new units of social housing, of which 44 are being financed by the State and 52 financed through the charity’s own resources.