A leading homelessness campaigner has claimed, despite a national outcry over the death of a man outside the Dáil at Christmas, entire families are facing life on the streets for the first time “since the Famine”.
Fr Peter McVerry issued the stark assessment of the crisis during a public war of wards with Environment Minister Alan Kelly over the fact 271 emergency beds introduced in December have been removed.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio after Mr Kelly said he has not heard the campaigner “say one positive thing yet in relation to anything”, Fr McVerry said the Government’s high-profile plans to effectively end homelessness by the end of 2016 have failed.
He said the country was “back to square one” of the crisis, with homeless people telling his charity the 271 emergency beds put in place at Christmas were removed five weeks later and they were being given sleeping bags when turning up for help.
Fr McVerry accepted there has been an increased attempt to tackle the problem, which is becoming increasingly apparent across Ireland, and which according to the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive means 359 families are in emergency accommodation in the capital, including 780 children.
However, he said the key reasons for what was were continuing to be left unaddressed.
“We have a homeless crisis that is unprecedented in my 40 years [working in the sector]. For the first time since the Famine, families are being told they have to live on the streets because there is no housing for them.
“Nothing is being done to stem the flow of homelessness. In the private rented sector people are being evicted because they can’t afford their rents.
“There is more money, but nevertheless he [Mr Kelly] opened 271 more emergency beds before Christmas, but five weeks later we’re back to square one.”
Mr Kelly had earlier responded to Fr McVerry’s labelling of his plans to end homelessness as “Alice in Wonderland” politics by saying he has yet to hear the campaigner “say one positive thing yet in relation to anything”.
“I’m used to those comments from him,” Labour’s deputy leader said during a visit to Fr Scully House, a new senior citizens’ complex in north inner city Dublin.
“I haven’t heard him say one thing positive yet in relation to anything, which is unfortunate because many members of his staff work with us and would have contrary views, or express contrary views. I’d rather if people were more constructive.
“To be frank, you’re talking to the person who has put more money into housing than anyone on this island in the history of this State.”
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