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'Homelessness industry' making millionaires out of hoteliers and hostel operators

Two State agencies alone are now spending €30,000 a year for every homeless person in the State, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

The multi-million euro homeless 'industry' is revealed in figures that show a complex money trail that filters down from the taxpayer to myriad public and private charities in the sector.

The Department of the Environment and the HSE together spend more than €78m to assist the estimated 2,663 people who are currently broadly described as "homeless".

The homeless include the relatively small number of long-term rough sleepers, (about 170 in Dublin and between 40 and 50 in the rest of the country) and those living in temporary accommodation.


Archbishop Martin

Archbishop Martin

Archbishop Martin

It also includes those living in insecure housing or threatened with eviction; those living in inadequate housing such as caravans on illegal camp sites; and those living in unfit housing without basic facilities or places of extreme overcrowding.

The huge sums of cash spent each year supports Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's assertion last week that there is now a "homelessness industry" - though charities working in the area, including Focus Ireland, quibble at the description.

It is now clear that money alone cannot end the social scourge of men, women and children having no safe and secure home. The 'industry' is also creating millionaires in the form of hoteliers and hostel operators who are making huge sums providing emergency accommodation, mostly in and around the capital.

Figures released to the Sunday Independent show that the biggest provider of funds remains the Department of the Environment. The Department will, by New Year's Eve, have spent €48m under the general heading of homelessness in 2014.

The HSE will, separately, spend another €30m. Department money is allocated under a range of headings including homelessness prevention which includes direct support for charities.

There are now 23 individual charities working in the area of homelessness headquartered in Dublin alone.

Under the heading of 'Homelessness Prevention', groups such as Dublin Simon (€1,196,285); Focus Ireland (€1,541,978); HAIL (€230,907); Sonas (€106,447); Barka (€120,000) and the Depaul Trust (€72,000) receive a cash allocation from the Department.

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Under the heading 'Emergency Accommodation', the Department of the Environment spends €27.5m.

The big winners here are those who provide private emergency accommodation - they will receive €12.6m this year. In July, August and September of this year Dublin City Council spent €2.44m in just those three months on hotels and other commercial, privately-owned accommodation.

The largest recipient of cash during that quarter was the Newlands Cross Hotel in the west of the capital. It received over €200,000 during those three months of summer in non-capitation payments.

Elsewhere under the heading 'Emergency Accommodation', the Department allocated additional funds to charities who provide beds.

These included €2,826,021 to the Peter McVerry Trust; €3,966,099 to Crosscare and €1,037,424 to the Salvation Army. Other charities providing a place to stay also received direct allocations from the Department.

Long-term supported housing will cost the Department €7.8m and there is a further €2.8m allocated to day services and €583,000 to domestic violence refuges.

There is also a significant administration cost for homelessness and housing services totalling just short of €6m, including wages.

The HSE's €30m spend includes direct provision to a large number of charities and agencies including €13.1m to Dublin City Council.

The HSE also directly allocates significant staff and cash. This includes two consultants leading mental health teams for the homeless and nursing posts working with those in temporary accommodation.

In addition, specialist GP and nursing services under the SafetyNet programme and specialist dental and primary care services are also delivered.

According to Lisa Kelleher of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, the estimated funding for homeless services in the Dublin region for 2014 is €48,407,606.88.

"The four Dublin local authorities have been working to absolute capacity, on a daily basis . . . Dublin local authorities spent €455,736 on hotels in 2012, €1,356,281.52 in 2013 and the estimated cost for 2014 is in excess of €4.5m," she said.

Roughan Mac Namara, Focus Ireland's advocacy manager, said: "Archbishop Martin is showing great support on the current homeless crisis . . . [he] has spoken a lot of sense on the issues but Focus Ireland would differ with him in relation to his comments on 'the homeless industry'. It's important to stress that the Archbishop said this as one brief comment which was part of a very informed extensive interview on Morning Ireland.

"Focus Ireland has worked very hard to ensure that 89 cents of every euro received is spent directly on services to combat and prevent homelessness.

"We have always had a proud track record of transparency and are signed up to the codes of best practice.

"Focus Ireland publishes a very detailed statement of our financial affairs every year and we have won the Chartered Accountants of Ireland Leinster Society award for published accounts four times since 2006. The salary of our CEO [€125,000] is published in our annual report and elsewhere," he said.

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