Coveney is 'open' to return of bedsits to tackle housing crisis
Housing minister Simon Coveney has said he's open to the possibility of loosening the restrictions on bedsits after meeting with homelessness activist Fr Peter McVerry who asked him to declare a "national emergency".
Mr Coveney confirmed that €46m a year is being spent on housing families in emergency accommodation hotels and B&Bs as the latest figures showing there's almost 4,000 homeless people nationwide.
Fr McVerry told the Irish Indpendent Mr Coveney went to his office where they had a 40 minute meeting and he suggested to the minister that thousands of bedsits be reopened to help deal with the crisis.
He said he told the housing minister: "We should declare a national emergency" and that several government departments and the local authorities need to be involved in dealing with it.
He told Mr Coveney the bedsits taken out of the system by tough laws in 2013 should be reopened "provided they reach a certain standard".
"Many of the bedsits that were closed were in appalling conditions, unfit for human habitation and nobody wants to go back to that.
"But provided the bedsits could be inspected and have reached a certain standard I think a lot of homeless people would be much happier being in a small bedsit than sharing a room in a hostel," Fr McVerry said.
He also told Mr Coveney "We need to prevent the banks from evicting people into homelessness. That's totally immoral."
In an interview following the meeting Mr Coveney did describe the situation as a "national emergency"
"We will spend €46m on hotel bills for families who don't have homes… That is not right. Families should not be living in hotels," he added.
The minister told RTÉ Radio's Seán O'Rourke that reopening bedsits is "a controversial issue" but said "I've got an open mind on it".
He said a balance needs to be struck between providing accommodation in an emergency "and at the same time making sure that we have appropriate standards for people to live in."
Fr McVerry said he also told the minister a moving story of one homeless family living in emergency hotel accommodation and how they're not allowed mix with the paying patrons. He said that on "a beautiful day and all the residents in the hotel were sitting out in the beer garden enjoying the sun" but that the homeless residents aren't allowed out there.
One homeless mother was walking through the area with her seven-year-old son who saw a dog bowl with water in it and asked her: "'why is a dog allowed in the garden and we're not?'"
"So the situation facing families in hotels is just absolutely disgraceful," Fr McVerry said.
He has invited Mr Coveney to his organisation's drop in centre at a later date to meet some of his clients. Mr Coveney yesterday had meetings lined up with Focus Ireland and The Simon Community.
Asked if he has renewed hope for a solution to the crisis Fr McVerry replied: "Well things are so bad I need to have some hope.
"We have a new beginning here now, a new person, with new ideas, new initiatives and yes I would be cautiously hopeful yes." But he warned that homelessness is "a huge and complex problem" and added: "I'm not expecting miracles but yes I do have a hope that things can improve."
He said his meeting with Mr Coveney had gone well.
"I found him very genuine and very keen to actually make a difference to this problem and to make a difference as quickly as possible so I'm certainly very happy to give him my support at this time in the hope and indeed the expectation that he will make a difference."
Mr Coveney's government has committed to publishing an action plan on housing and homelessness within the first 100 days in office and has pledged to build 35,000 social housing units by 2020.