IRELAND'S homeless crisis could be much worse than anything seen in the 1980s, with up to 5,000 people currently without a home and another 100,000 on social housing waiting lists.
The recession has been blamed for a dramatic rise in homeless numbers and comes as the Government's deadline for ending long-term homelessness by the end of this year rapidly approaches.
St Stanislaus Kennedy, founder of Focus Ireland, used the 25th anniversary of the charity's establishment to warn that unless the Government provides housing for those most in need the country's homeless crisis could surpass the grim days of the 1980s.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday, she said thousands of families were at risk of losing their homes, some due to the severe impact of the recession.
"We would be failing in our duty to the 5,000 people who are homeless today -- and thousands at risk -- if we did not warn the Government that a continued failure to provide housing for those in most need will lead to an entrenched homeless crisis.
"There are people who are homeless who are ready to move on today but they are trapped in emergency accommodation as there are no homes for them." Sr Stan added successive governments had failed to tackle homelessness, even during the Celtic Tiger years.
In 1991 there were 2,700 people homeless nationwide. However, this has now risen to 5,000.
Meanwhile, there has been an explosion in the numbers on the social-housing waiting list during the recession. The most recent figures show that by the end of 2009, there were 99,846 households on the list, up by more than three-quarters since 2008, when some 56,000 families were waiting for homes.
Focus Ireland's coffee shop, advice and information centre in Dublin's Temple Bar has recorded a 5pc increase in the numbers using its services so far this year with 2,671 people coming through its doors. It provides around 40,000 low-cost meals for single people, families and children each year.
The charity has calculated that an extra 1,200 tenancies are needed in Dublin by the end of 2010 if the Government is to meet its deadline of eradicating long-term homelessness and sleeping rough.
However, the charity is sceptical that the target will be met, arguing none of the government schemes to date have succeeded in providing the long-term housing which is vital for people who are homeless -- despite the glut of surplus homes nationwide.
Despite this, Focus chief executive Joyce Loughnan insisted the organisation would continue to work hard towards achieving the target.
"However ,in such a climate it would be disastrous if the Government was to use the Budget to cut existing levels of funding to homeless services -- especially if there is a continued failure to provide housing for those most in need," she said.