CHILDREN as young as 12 are needing emergency help to cope with becoming homeless in Dublin, a charity has warned.
A Salvation Army centre in the city is widening its support for homeless teenagers by providing them with counselling as well as accommodation.
The charity's Lefroy House on Eden Quay has been providing beds, hot food and showers on an emergency basis to teenagers. A new counselling service is now being set up.
Salvation Army captain Andrea Cooper (38), who manages the centre, told the Herald the new counselling service for the troubled teenagers will also provide advice on important issues.
The young people will receive counselling in coping with matters including mental health, suicide prevention, substance abuse, and to counter vulnerability to the sex trade.
"We've got seven emergency beds for teenagers but it is important that we can now provide a counselling room for them," she said.
Teenagers are becoming homeless for many reasons, including behaviour problems, alcohol and drug use, and family breakdowns. Gardai refer homeless teens to HSE crisis intervention teams and Lefroy House is available to give them short-term accommodation.
"It's frustrating to encounter boys and girls so young becoming homeless. I feel angry that it happens as young people deserve the best. Some of their stories are horrific," said Ms Cooper.
"There's never enough being done to cope with the problem but we can't give up on these young people," she said.
The Salvation Army project was one of the €5,000 grant winners in this year's Dublin Bus Community Support Programme. The grant will help set up the counselling service.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) admitted earlier this year it does not know how many homeless children are living in the State.
The agency, which is responsible for children under 18 who are unable to live with their families, also admitted the figure it uses for homeless minors is inaccurate.
In March, it estimated that the number of homeless children across the State is 705, but this number was believed to be artificially high because of poor record-keeping.
But the figures revealed the number of children ending up homeless and in need of HSE emergency services was growing. It jumped from an estimated 492 in 2006 to more than 700 in 2009.
The figures may include some double counting of repeat referrals, said a spokeswoman.
Homelessness charities said then it was shocking that the HSE did not have the figures.