True homeless figure double what minister says: McVerry
THE Government has been accused of "seriously underestimating" the homelessness situation after it published a plan to tackle the problem.
Fr Peter McVerry dismissed Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan's claim that she would eradicate homelessness in three years and questioned the accuracy of her figures for homeless people.
Ms O'Sullivan announced that 900 houses would be made available for homeless people every year for the next three years.
The units will come from local authorities, NAMA and through the refurbishment of state-owned buildings, such as garda barracks.
The cap on rent allowance will also be lifted in some cases to allow families access homes in the increasingly expensive rental market.
Ms O'Sullivan said €35m would be given to local authorities to refurbish around 1,750 vacant houses this year. It is hoped that NAMA will provide 500 homes, which will be used to house homeless people.
The Government will also spend €25m on buying and constructing houses which are specifically for homeless people.
She said it was a "scandal" that local authority homes were vacant for two years or more when people were on waiting lists. She said she would "forcibly" ensure that local authorities do not allow houses to sit idle in the future.
A central agency dedicated to housing the homeless will also be established to help people seeking accommodation.
But while Ms O'Sullivan claimed that there were 2,660 homeless people in the country, Fr McVerry, a leading homelessness campaigner, said he believed the number of homeless people was almost double that.
He said the 2011 census had identified 3,800 homeless people and he was in "no doubt" that this figure had increased in the past three years.
"I would estimate – and I think most of the groups working in the homeless sector would estimate – that there are over 5,000 homeless people in Ireland," he said. "She seriously underestimates the amount of homeless people."
Fr McVerry said the Government's initiative involved too many agencies and was overly reliant on the private rental sector. He said the State would have to spend close to €200m to properly address the crisis.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government's response to homelessness was "utterly disgraceful". He added: "A major public housing programme would more than pay for itself over 10 years, with the savings on rent allowance and new rental revenue.
"If we could build tens of thousands of council houses in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s when this country was a borderline third-world country, we can certainly afford to do it now."
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the issue of homelessness would remain on the Cabinet's agenda until progress is made. "We don't want these situations exacerbated. Clearly, there's a demand now, a demand problem that we have to deal in the immediate, medium and longer term. The Government is setting out about that with a real sense of priority now."