Latest: TD adds to call for tax on owners of empty houses as homeless numbers rise

Update - 10.45pm: The Housing Minister Simon Coveney has come under fire over the latest homeless figures.

Mr Coveney says the figures are "stark" but significant resources are being applied to the problem.

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy says the minister's plans are not actually being implemented, and is calling for a tax on vacant properties.

She said: "Where there have been incentives to encourage people to bring some of that housing stock back into use where it needs some remedial action, I think more needs to happen.

"Some of it has got to happen on the penalty side by virtue of the fact the accommodation is vacant at a time when there's a crisis."

Earlier: More than 5,000 people were homeless across the country last month and more than 200 were found sleeping rough in Dublin on one night this month.

Official figures from a headcount on April 4 found 138 people were forced to bed down on the streets of the capital, up a third on last April.

Another 57 were recorded in Merchant's Quay Ireland's Night Cafe and officials also found 23 Romanians sleeping outside after they had arrived in previous weeks seeking or having been promised employment.

More than half of them have been repatriated, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said.

The monthly report on emergency accommodation also revealed that 3,299 adults and 2,134 children were homeless in March.

Roughan MacNamara of Focus Ireland said the increase in rough sleepers was expected but disappointing.

"We all need to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to end this terrible and unacceptable human crisis," he said.

The charity highlighted the need to force action from owners of empty houses, including looking at introducing a vacant home tax, while encouraging the building of new homes.

Focus Ireland said there is a target to source 300 permanent homes this year for rough sleepers and single adults in emergency accommodation under the Housing First Programme.

It aims to get people off the streets and into a home as quickly as possible and give them intensive support to keep the roof over their heads.

"This approach has had a high success rate worldwide, but requires access to homes to work," Focus Ireland said.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney recommitted to a deadline of the middle of this year to end the use of hotels, guest houses and B&Bs for emergency beds for families unless the circumstances are exceptional.

"I will continue to work with all the stakeholders to ensure that this ambitious target of Government is met and that a better way of life and the appropriate supports are provided for families, who need them most," he said.

"There are no quick-fix solutions here but I will continue to work with my colleagues in Government and all stakeholders to address the major challenge that is homelessness."

Detail on the spring rough sleeper count in Dublin showed 85 people had previously accessed homeless services and seven had never done so.

Thirteen were described as non-Irish nationals and the nationality of another 40 could not be established.

The vast majority of rough sleepers were found on the streets of the city and men outnumbered women by about four to one.

Winter 2014 was the worst on record for rough sleepers, when 168 people were counted on the streets.

Pat Doyle, chief executive of the Peter McVerry Trust, said it had been hoped the number would come down with new beds and homes being made available.

"We still see people falling through the cracks too easily," he said.

"We need better and stronger supports for vulnerable people, people who find it very difficult to comply with a one-size-fits-all approach.

"We are still asking for improved responses from Government departments like social protection, justice and health."

The trust noted that there are 33,000 empty homes in Dublin.

Mr Doyle said: "These buildings can and must play a critical role in providing exits from homelessness.

"We know there are over 33,000 empty homes in Dublin alone, yet we only need around 200 of these to all but eliminate rough sleeping in the city."

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