Katherine Zappone: Homelessness now a national emergency

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has said it is time politicians and those in power stop avoiding the issue and accept that homelessness and child homeless rates are now a “national emergency”.

Katherine Zappone: 'As a member of Cabinet, we're all responsible for it.' Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Latest figures show more than 3,200 children and 9,000 people are homeless.

Ms Zappone, speaking to the Irish Examiner, said it is understandable people feel it is “not good enough” for politicians to simply say they are upset over the crisis.

Asked if it is time homeless levels are officially recognised as a national emergency, she said there is no point in using carefully crafted words or excuses to avoid the reality and that the scale of the situation needs to be fully acknowledged.

In a thinly veiled warning to her coalition colleagues Fine Gael, Ms Zappone said while it is important to put plans in place for future house building and capital projects, it is essential the problems occurring now are immediately addressed.

“It is a national emergency, it is increasing to that point. I mean, what language will we use? Why don’t we just say these are the numbers that we have,” said Ms Zappone.

“Of course I’m very upset about it and of course people say, ‘Well that’s not good enough that you’re very upset.’ As a Minister for Children you’re aware of it.

“As a member of Cabinet, we’re all responsible for it and the increasing numbers of children in homelessness, and my focus has been on looking at how we prevent more children and families going into homelessness.

“My colleagues in Fine Gael have focused on rebuilding, capital plans, vacant sites. It’s not that I’m not listening to that, and yes, supporting that, but that’s further down the road.

“I have a responsibility to make available to the children who are in emergency accommodation services to mitigate the impact of homelessness in their lives.”

Ms Zappone’s comments come as the Government continues to face criticism over its handling of the homelessness crisis.

At the Fine Gael ard fhéis last November, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar provoked criticism when he claimed Ireland has a “low” homeless rate by international standards, despite the fact the report he used to back up his claim specifically says it is difficult to compare international figures.

At a Dáil debate on the homelessness crisis on the last day of the Dáil term before the winter break, just 19 TDs out of 158 attended. They included just three Government members: Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, housing committee chair Maria Bailey, and back-bencher Kate O’Connell.

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