The new Government must use part of the billions it will borrow for economic purposes to finally solve Ireland's housing and homelessness problems, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy has said.
The founder of Focus Ireland, which has worked to house homeless people since 1985, said the new Taoiseach and housing minister should produce a clear roadmap to end the housing crisis and act quickly.
"This could be a turning point, a real opportunity for change. They need to be creative about it, like buying Air BnB properties that were used in recent months to house the homeless, and buying hotels that were used for the homeless and converting them to apartments," she said.
"Other European countries have used the crisis as an opportunity to rethink their approach to homelessness. That is what we need to do. There is a real danger when the Covid crisis dies down that we will go back to the way we were.
"European countries are shifting from short-term emergency responses such as shelters to building affordable housing. We have to build homes that people can afford to buy and to rent. Rather than making statements, the proof of the pudding is to get these things done," she told the Sunday Independent.
Homeless numbers dropped because of measures taken during the Covid crisis, including a rent freeze, the ban on evictions and the co-operation of the State, local authorities, agencies and groups, Sr Stan said.
Also, properties made available to the homeless could be purchased now to give people permanent homes, she said.
"It is really important that the homeless people who were housed during Covid should not be made homeless again. There would be a new surge in homelessness if that happens. It would be terrible if those people, so happy to have homes now, were thrown back on the streets again.
"We need clarity from the Taoiseach and the new minister for housing that they will bring these changes and that they will use the Covid crisis as a step forward and not go back to the way we were. It's a real opportunity."
Sr Stan spoke of how some homeless people prefer to be on the streets because of their fears of drugs in hostels. This underlined the real need for permanent homes.
"And we need to move on from short-term measures and hubs to providing them with housing of their own. Housing is the number one issue and a big priority in the election," she added.
"The housing situation is hitting everyone. When I started out it was just the poorer people who were homeless, a smaller number. Now it is hitting everyone right across the board."
She welcomed provisions in the programme for government, such as a strategy for helping vulnerable young people who become homeless, the planned referendum on a right to housing and the provision for a housing commission.
Other welcome advances related to temporary rent freezes and bans on no-fault evictions.
Sr Stan expressed sadness at the latest death of a young homeless man who was found dead in a car in a lane in Dublin city centre last Thursday.
"Sadly, these tragedies have continued to happen but don't seem to be as shocking to people. This is just awful, for this young man and for his family," she said.
Sadness at the man's death was also expressed by Feed Our Homeless charity founder Anthony Walsh, who said the victim told charity workers earlier last week that he was too afraid to stay in hostels in the city.