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Homeless figures reach record levels

By Susan Gately - 27 May, 2017

The number of homeless families in Ireland has risen in the last year according to new government figures released on Thursday.

The Department of Housing figures show that 7,600 people were homeless in April and more than 2,700 of these are children.

It is the 13th consecutive month that the number of people in need of emergency accommodation has risen. There are now 1,300 families homeless in Ireland – an increase of 26 per cent on April 2016.

Focus Ireland says the figures “clearly demonstrate the deepening crisis”.

The figures come in a week when several homeless families were advised to stay overnight in Garda stations due to a lack of emergency accommodation.

Sarah O’Gorman from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said seven families were directed to stations on Tuesday, but none took up the offer. A spokesman for Focus Ireland said they did not do so as they were afraid their children would be taken into care.

“Due to the critical shortage of suitable family emergency accommodation, over 800 families are staying in hotels in Dublin. Up to 200 of these placements are night-by-night bookings, so if a hotel is then booked up with commercial guests, a family who is homeless has to find another place to stay,” explained Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen.

These shocking events are an “unwelcome vindication of the warnings the charity has repeatedly made to the government for the last two years that using commercial hotels as emergency accommodation for families who are homeless is totally unsuitable and unacceptable,” he added.

Focus Ireland said the homeless crisis can be solved if it is made a true priority by the government. From its frontline work, it sees the single largest cause of homelessness as being property taken out of the rental market, by landlords either selling up or using the property for their own families.

The charity maintains that a key part of the failure by successive governments to tackle the ongoing homeless crisis is that the response has been led by a series of ‘halfway house’ policies.

The charity said that while there are some very positive policies being rolled out, such as the commitment to 47,000 social houses, the repair and leasing scheme and the vacant homes initiative, these fall short because they try to keep all parties happy and are not “single-minded enough to address the underlying structural problems, and so the crisis continues”.

Focus Ireland said the latest figures must be seen as a “line in the sand” for the government. “They must see this cannot continue.

“These highly disappointing figures come in what has been a distressing week for a number of families who are homeless.”

The charity has proposed that instead of leading with market incentives, the government should “directly fund the local authorities to actually build the new housing themselves”, or instead of offering incentives to people to rent out their empty houses, “penalties for those who will not” should be introduced.

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