Figures from the Department of Social Protection show €39,500 was spent housing just one Cork family under its exceptional needs payment scheme.
The scale of the payments has prompted fresh calls for money to instead be spent on keeping vulnerable families in their rental accommodation.
Highlighting the growth of the homelessness crisis outside of Dublin, the department revealed that the amount it has paid out under exceptional needs payments to people in hotels, hostels, and B&Bs nationally to the middle of October this year is already more than double the figure last year — up from €1.5m to over €3.1m.
While the bill for families living in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation in the capital is co-ordinated through the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, in co-operation with the four local authorities, different systems operate elsewhere.
Thanks to historical arrangements with the Community Welfare Services, the money paid to house homeless families in some other parts of the country is covered by exceptional needs payments, with the issue most acute in Cork.
Looking at aggregate payments to house people and families in emergency accommodation, eight of the 10 highest payments so far relate to families in Cork, equating to €248,000 in total up to October 20.
The other two payments were for €34,000 to house a family in Clare and €29,500 spent so far this year to house a family in Limerick. The corresponding amount spent on all 10 families last year was €30,500, indicating that most of the families only became the subject of exceptional needs payments late last year or early this year.
Focus Ireland’s service manager for Cork and Limerick, Ger Spillane, said the amount of money spent on housing homeless people and families had nothing to do with the individuals involved and instead reflected the “madness” of the current system.
“Not all of the families, but a good portion of them, would have lost their tenancy because the rent went up,” said Mr Spillane. “It’s actually cheaper to pay the extra rent than put them in a hostel or B&B.”
He said Focus Ireland operates a social rental model in Limerick designed to keep people in their tenancies and avoiding becoming homeless, topping up other payments to meet market rents.
Mr Spillane said there seemed to be a view that the Government could not be seen to allow landlords to profit from the housing crisis by making similar top-up payments, but he said the contradiction was that hotels were benefiting from the same situation.
The payments covered in the Freedom of Information request cover both Cork city and county areas, although most relate to city placements.
A spreadsheet showed the monthly payments made with regard to various placements and also highlights the variety of costs on offer, from one cent for a week-long stay in November/ December last year to €4,420 to cover a two-week stay at the start of June this year. More payments, and a greater number of larger payments, are visible in recent months.
The Homeless Persons Unit provides a central placement system for those presenting as homeless in Cork City on behalf of and funded by Cork City Council.
The exceptional needs payments are made by the department, but on a monthly basis a summary of accommodation costs are submitted to the city council for reimbursement.
Historical arrangements are in place in Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary, where community welfare officers work in conjunction with the local authorities’ homeless units.
The department said that these arrangements with the local authorities are currently under review.