A homeless campaigner has said a boy photographed while eating his dinner on the ground is one of around 20 children he sees on the streets nightly.
Earlier this week a photo circulated on social media of five-year-old homeless boy ‘Sam’ (not his real name) sitting on a piece of cardboard on the ground and eating his dinner.
Tony Walsh, from Feed Our Homeless in Dublin city, said Sam and his mother are “regulars” to the homeless food services. However, he said they’re far from alone and there are around 19 other children a night also eating on the street.
“Sam and his mum engage with us on the street,” Mr Walsh told Independent.ie
“I knew the photograph released was of Sam as soon as I saw it.
“His mother is in her late 30s, she’s been homeless a while and is in emergency accommodation, but there’s no cooking facilities.
“It’s too expensive to eat out and the mother doesn’t want Sam to keep eating fast food, as it’s unhealthy.
Mr Walsh said that despite being homeless Sam's mother just wanted the best for her child.
“She feels the same as all the parents who come to our service and the other services for food. They know at least here they will get healthy food for their children.
“We provide stews, curries, mashed potatoes and the kids get a proper meal.
“Sam comes for food at around seven. He loves mashed potatoes. He’s a lovely little kid, very mannerly.
“I saw him on Thursday and he was still in his school uniform. His mother has anything we have.
“There’s no way a child should be eating his dinner from the ground outside. He should be eating dinner at a table in his home. But like almost 4,000 other kids, Sam doesn’t have a home.
“The Government’s housing policies are failing. We have, on average, 20 children a night eating on the street and the homeless problem isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse every single week.”
Mr Walsh said he had also met mothers with newborn babies attending the homeless food services.
The situation was only going to change, he added, when the Government halted its “over-reliance on the private rental market, which is making families homeless”.
“We need social and affordable housing, the Government know that,” he said.
“Their policies are failing and putting a generation of children into poverty.
“Some families are still in rental accommodation, but are paying up to 70pc of their income for that, so they’re food-poor and that’s why they come to us to eat with their children.”
A spokesman for St Vincent De Paul said the photograph of Sam had “rightly” initiated widespread public shock and the charity also wanted the Government to address the housing shortage in a more rapid manner.
The charity said it visits emergency accommodation to offer food and other resources to families in need.
The spokesman said the charity feels the crisis can only be resolved by the State providing more social and affordable homes to families.
Earlier this week, the Homeless Street Cafe posted a photo of Sam on Facebook, sparking outrage across Ireland. The image also made the news in the UK, a country with a homeless problem of its own.
Almost 4,000 children are homeless in Ireland, with the majority in Dublin, which has been worst hit by the housing crisis.