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Census to reveal true scale of homeless problem

THE number of homeless people living in the country is to be counted accurately for the first time.

Homeless people are considered a 'hard-to-count' group because they live either on the streets or move from shelter to shelter.

Charities believe that official estimates of about 4,000 homeless people significantly understate the problem.

But new arrangements have been made to count the homeless for the 2011 Census on census night -- April 10, 2011.

The homeless living in shelters and centres will be counted, while those living rough on the streets will be counted by staff from the Homeless Agency in Dublin and by local authority staff and volunteers around the country.

It will be the first time that homeless people are recorded accurately in the census. They were previously put in the category of 'persons living in non-conventional dwellings' in the 2006 census, which meant it was impossible to get an accurate figure.

Government chief whip John Curran said the new system would allow the Central Statistics Office to "separately distinguish" homeless people.


However, the improved system may still miss out on a small number of homeless people who live in squats in unoccupied buildings. Homeless charity volunteers are only allowed to enter these squats if they have garda protection.

But Dublin Simon spokeswoman Lorna Cronnelly welcomed the decision.

"We think it's really important that we get a better idea of what the figures are at the moment. Hopefully, it will highlight the increased demand that has been on our services, and that the Government will continue to fulfil the commitments to homeless people," she said.

The charity receives about €4.5m in state funding and gathers a similar amount in private fundraising. But Ms Cronnelly said it was expecting a 13pc cut in funding from the HSE and a cut of 5pc-8pc from the Department of Environment homeless budget.

"We're looking to make up a bigger shortfall every year due to the cuts," she said.

Ms Cronnelly said the biggest problem for homeless people was access to appropriate accommodation where support services were available.

"We can do so much with people and help rehabilitate them, but once we don't have the accommodation, there's very little you can do after that," she said.

Irish Independent