THREE major charities have bypassed the State to directly lease flats from the private sector in a bid to combat homelessness this Christmas.
The Simon Community, supported by Focus Ireland and St Vincent de Paul, slated government policy as they confirmed the radical move to lease from private landlords.
The 'In From the Cold' initiative is the first time the groups have ever directly tapped into the private sector market, and it is funded entirely from voluntary donations. But it was described as a stark condemnation of government inaction over the crisis.
It comes just one week after a homeless man, Paul Doyle (33), froze to death sleeping rough in Bray, Co Wicklow.
Simon has suffered funding cuts every year since 2009 – despite the fact that Ireland's rate of homelessness has soared since the economic crisis began.
Despite the successive funding cuts, Simon this year managed to increase its overall shelter capacity by 10pc at no extra cost.
However, the charity decided to target the private rental market amid fears the mounting pressure on emergency shelters will leave increasing numbers of people forced to sleep rough.
A total of 21 flats will be leased as part of the roll-out phase, with landlords guaranteed both monthly rent and property maintenance.
"This radical plan will free up much-needed emergency beds so that no one will have to sleep rough in Cork. It will ensure that people who are ready to leave homelessness behind have access to suitable and affordable housing as quickly as possible, creating the space they need to start getting their lives back on track," Simon's Cork boss Dermot Kavanagh said.
Focus Ireland's Ger Spillane said: "We're guaranteeing landlords a monthly rent, ongoing maintenance of their properties and an assurance that their property will be returned in its original state at the end of the lease. We'll support every tenant for as long as is necessary.
"We've always wanted to move people out of emergency accommodation as quickly as possible, but the housing to do so simply wasn't there. This new initiative will change that."
St Vincent de Paul hostel director Paul Okere said it was vital to ease pressure on emergency shelters.
"We're already seeing the positive impact this plan is having on the number of people sleeping rough. During the first two weeks of December we saw instances of rough sleeping fall."
The 2011 Census found 3,808 people were homeless but there are concerns that the figure has since soared above 5,000. Around one in eight homeless people are children under 17.
Homeless shelters in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway are now operating at full capacity, with several emergency facilities operating to 114pc design capacity.
The rate of people sleeping rough increased by an estimated 300pc since 2009-2010, with Simon blaming the soaring numbers on the recession, long-term homelessness and the shortage of suitable, affordable housing units.