Babies will spend their first Christmas in homeless accommodation, as the country faces the worst homeless crisis in living memory, according to Focus Ireland.
The homeless charity launched an urgent Christmas appeal on Sunday with a campaign that highlights there are now more than 4,000 children homeless nationwide.
It said that while the crisis is still deepening – with a record total of 9,698 people now homeless – the situation would be much worse without the lifeline services and housing it provides.
Focus Ireland advocacy manager Roughan MacNamara told the PA news agency the country is experiencing the worst homelessness crisis in living memory.
The charity hopes to raise 1.5 million euro in the Christmas appeal to support a new family centre which will open by the end of the year.
“The worrying thing about how systemic homelessness is becoming is that we are now seeing babies being born into homelessness. Over 140 babies of the homeless families we are supporting were homeless when they were born,” he said.
Mr MacNamara said the issue of family homelessness is not confined to Dublin but has extended to rural areas.
“It is pretty shocking and it is not just a Dublin problem. The way things are going now, there are nearly 500 families and 1,000 children who are homeless outside of Dublin so it is a real sign that homelessness has just gotten worse,” he said.
Focus Ireland issued new figures on Sunday showing it has helped more than 13,000 people from January to end of September this year.
This is a 6% rise from the 12,270 helped in the same period in 2017.
The charity also supported more than 350 families to secure a home and escape homelessness from January.
“On the positive side, people are supporting us and we are launching today’s campaign to raise more money as 40% of our funding comes from donations,” Mr MacNamara said.
“It is terrible to think that a few weeks before Christmas, that is such a special time for children and babies. To think that they would be spending their first Christmas in cramped unsuitable emergency accommodation is awful,” he said.
“It is not just the stress and of living in unsuitable housing – it is causing a lot of trauma to young children and is affecting their development. We have seen babies that are unable to crawl as their living conditions are stunting their growth and development.
“We have child support workers who try and help them to reach their developmental milestones but due to a lack of funding, only 9% of the children we work with have access to a child support worker.”
Mr MacNamara said Focus Ireland wants a “cast-iron deadline of six months” so that no family or individual will be homeless for more than six months.
It also called for the Government to develop a specific family homelessness strategy because most services are aimed at adults and are not child-centred.