Government and its policies making homelessness crisis worse - watchdog
The homelessness crisis is being made significantly worse by Government policies, Ireland's human rights watchdog has warned.
In a hard-hitting report, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said the Government's response was leaving low earners vulnerable to shocks in the housing market.
It criticised the failure to build social housing and the manner in which it believes the crisis is being portrayed.
The intervention by the commission, which is headed by Emily Logan, will pile pressure on embattled Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, who has insisted his Rebuilding Ireland programme is working.
The IHREC said it was "disappointed by the Government's attempt to take the emphasis off the human face of the homelessness crisis".
It accused the Government of recasting the crisis as "the by-product of market dynamics, or the price our society pays for progress".
The commission said it believed the rise in homelessness had been "significantly exacerbated by Government policy choices".
It made the comments in a submission to the Council of Europe on economic and social rights, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.
In particular, it focused on the failure to build more social housing and the reliance on providing rent supplement.
"The decision to withdraw from building social housing and to instead provide rent supplement for private renters has made low-income households extremely vulnerable to shocks in the housing market," the report said.
The IHREC said the Government was increasingly relying on the Housing Assistance Payment, commonly known as HAP, as part of its social housing strategy.
However, it said that it was finding itself having to increasingly support people who have been discriminated against in accessing private rental accommodation on the basis of being in receipt of HAP.
According to the report, the Children's Rights Alliance had found many families in homeless services were reluctant to accept HAP due to difficulties in the private rented sector and their preference was to wait for social housing with greater stability and security of tenure.
Homelessness numbers have grown steadily over the past five years.
Figures from the end of April revealed 10,378 people were classified as homeless. They included 3,794 children, while 1,729 families were accessing State-funded emergency accommodation.
The IHREC said the impact of homelessness on families and children was "a particular concern" and that emergency accommodation should only be used for the shortest possible period of time.
It also said the State was not in compliance with Article 16 of the European Social Charter, due to an ongoing failure to meet the accommodation needs of Traveller and Roma families.
Separately, the report said the IHREC was concerned about delays in putting in place a necessary policy and human rights framework to combat the abuse and exploitation of children.
It said Ireland remained the only EU state not to have ratified the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights on the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
"Collection of data on abuse of children remains weak and a lack of specialised services for child victims leaves children potentially open to re-victimisation and secondary trauma," it said.