The tragic case of Timmy Hourihane, the homeless man who was beaten to death in Cork at the weekend, demonstrates the complexity of the homelessness crisis, the Taoiseach said.
Leo Varadkar made his comments after Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the government of not showing enough creativity or urgency to deal with the housing shortage.
Mr Martin, who raised the issue in the Dáil, said Mr Hourihane’s death reveals the fragility of homelessness and underlines how the government’s existing policies and solutions around tackling the problem have failed.
“The government’s response to date has not been of significant scale, creativity or urgency to deal with this. Fifty deaths a year among our homeless community on our streets is a damning indictment of government failures,” he said.
Mr Varadkar accepted that the government is struggling to solve the wider homelessness problem but he said in Mr Hourihane’s case, his family tried to help him, he was helped by housing charities, by addiction services and was also provided with an apartment - funded by the government.
“But unfortunately this does demonstrate how complex the problem of homelessness often is, how hard it can be to help people, but how we should never give up trying to help people no matter what the circumstances,” he said.
The issue was raised in the Dáil just hours after Mr Hourihane’s devastated family appealed to the public for help finding his killer, and for privacy as they grieve his death.
“The family would ask that people would give any assistance that they can to An Garda Síochána to help bring some closure to the matter. There will be no further statement or comment by, or on behalf of the family," they said.
Their plea comes as gardaí continue their investigation into Mr Hourihane’s brutal death.
Gardaí say they are making good progress in their investigation, which has included taking statements from people who were living in tents in the Mardyke Walk area, they have taken some items of clothing for forensic analysis from people who were staying there, and they have harvested CCTV footage in a bid to trace Mr Hourihane’s last-known movements.
Meanwhile, the city council’s head of housing, Brian Geaney, told councillors on Monday that there are about 15 individuals known to the authorities that sleep rough on a regular basis in the city.
Offers of accommodation are regularly made to them but he added: “Our experience is that people do not always present on the night to avail of the bed on offer.
“If individuals or families present to the Accommodation Placement Service, the council makes every effort to provide an appropriate offer of accommodation. However, how people present on the night must be taken into account as there is a duty of care to the other residents availing of the homeless service.
“Currently, there is a group of individuals who are sleeping rough on a continuous basis who have not presented for any service and do not engage with the outreach teams.”
Fianna Fáil Cllr Fergal Dennehy, who tried to help Mr Hourihane over the years, said the issue again highlights the need for another tier of supports, to include wet houses and shelters for people with mental health and addiction issues.