Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been accused of “blowing smoke” after he insisted that “common sense” must be applied in response to the growing homelessness crisis.
He was speaking in Mayo as his government said it was looking at a plan to encourage homeless families out of Dublin to fill vacant homes in rural areas.
“It is a case of having joined up thinking, common sense and a response to emergencies as they arise,” he said.
“Every local authority has a responsibility to determine whether a family or individual becomes homeless. In that case they are given the resources and if they haven’t got them they will be supplied to them to deal with the question as they arise,” he declared
But Christy Burke, former lord mayor of Dublin and chairman of one homeless charity, says that the situation is so extreme that it warrants recalling parliament.
“Listening to the Taoiseach at Knock last Sunday, he was blowing smoke - it’s action that’s needed now, not words,” he said.
Sinn Fein also accused the Taoiseach and Environment Minister Alan Kelly of attempting to “spin their way” out of the crisis. The party has been holding a number of protests in Dublin to draw attention to the crisis and to demand the Government take immediate action.
With the number of families with children homeless in Dublin now at the highest in more than a decade - some 1,185 children from 556 families were counted as homeless in Dublin last month - the crisis will be top of both the government’s and opposition’s agenda when the Dail reconvenes next month. Numbers are also escalating in the commuter counties, as well as in the main urban areas of Cork, Galway and Limerick, and in larger towns.
‘OUT OF CONTROL’
Speaking at an event in Dublin yesterday to mark the 30th anniversary of Focus Ireland, its founder, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, said she had never seen as much homelessness in Ireland.
“It’s out of control and it’s an emergency now. Every day we’re seeing new families becoming homeless, and the numbers are increasing,” she said.
On average, two to three families are made homeless in Dublin every day. Many receive temporary accommodation, but that has its pitfalls.
Those housed at one budget hotel have been banned from using its front entrance as part of a list of strict rules issued on behalf of Dublin city council.
Families are also prohibited from walking through its restaurant or bar after breakfast hours, and must abide by a nightly curfew of 11pm. Other rules forbid drying clothes, using the car park, having visitors, or leaving children under 18 unaccompanied.
In Galway, 22 homeless families were asked to leave their emergency accommodation to free up capacity for tourists during the lucrative Race Week market, when accommodation fetches several times the usual market rate. They were told if they had relatives elsewhere, to go and stay with them.
Galway City councillor, Mike Cubbard says the situation was a disgrace. “These families have nowhere to go. Some of them haven’t a clue where they will go.”
PLANK FOR A BED
Some families have been handed sleeping bags and told to find shelter on the street.
One family with three children in Dublin, evicted from their rented accommodation as a result of a dispute between their landlord and a bank, were forced to sleep rough in a park. The family, who have no English, were forced to bed down in Mountjoy Square Park, with the two elder children sleeping on a plank with the youngest in a go-car, while their parents kept watch.
Another mother and her 15-year-old son took to sleeping in the emergency department of the Mater hospital because they had nowhere else to go.
There are at least 12 families currently living in cars in Dublin. Others are finding shelter by hiding in public buildings.
Altogether, some 3,300 adults used State-funded emergency accommodation across the country in July. Many are homeless following the repossession of their homes, usually rented. Rental costs well above their monthly rent allowance mean families are not in a position to find alternative accommodation.
Adding to the crisis in the cities is the return of students who are unable to afford rent increases imposed by price-gouging landlords. Many are being forced to drop out or seek accommodation far away from their colleges.
Charity worker Father Peter McVerry says the homeless figures are spiralling out of control, with 577 households joining the Dublin social housing waiting list in the last two months.
“That is almost 20 houses per day coming saying ‘we don’t have suitable accommodation’,” he said.
He says the current crisis is being felt hardest by families and they’re getting desperate.
“We have parents putting their children into care to prevent them sleeping on the streets with the parents,” he said.
“I know parents who have gone out to the airport to spend the night.
“I have one family who asked could they sleep in my car tonight because they had nowhere to go. I advised them to go out to the airport to be honest, at least it’s dry, it’s warm,” he added.