Fr Peter McVerry: 'Soon the number of homeless children is going to pass 4,000. We are no longer shocked'

The image of a child eating his food off a piece of cardboard on the streets of the capital should outrage society, leading campaigner for the homeless, Fr Peter McVerry believes.

Fr Peter McVerry: 'Soon the number of homeless children is going to pass 4,000. We are no longer shocked'

The image of a child eating his food off a piece of cardboard on the streets of the capital should outrage society, leading campaigner for the homeless, Fr Peter McVerry believes.

But when something like homelessness exists for months, it becomes the norm and we are no longer shocked, he said.

Fr McVerry was speaking during a visit to Cork Penny Dinners after a week in which the photograph of five-year-old Sam emerged, and during which two homeless people died on the streets, one in violent circumstances.

But the Jesuit, who has been fighting homelessness for over 40 years, said what really annoys him is Government appeals for more time amid claims their policies are working.

“If you were running a business losing money and you were asked to come up with a strategy to reduce those losses, if after three years the company was not just losing money, but losing more money every month, somebody would say that strategy isn’t working," he said.

“I think we have to apply that to the government’s strategy on homelessness.”

Fr McVerry recalled the efforts made to prevent the number of registered homeless passing the 10,000 mark, and the outcry when it did.

“I remember when the number of homeless children first passed 1,000, it was on the front page of every newspaper, it was on every radio and television news programme," he said.

“It created a huge stir and government ministers were on the media affirming we’ve got to do better than this.

“Then the number of homeless children passed 2,000, then it passed 3,000. Soon it’s going to pass 4,000.

“Once something exists for a period of months it becomes the norm. And we are no longer shocked.”

But he said the homeless crisis can be solved if the government ramps up construction of local authority housing - by the thousands - and is open in the short-term to radical solutions, such as the CPO-ing of vacant buildings where their owners can’t or won’t bring them back into use, and the outlawing for three years of private sector evictions into homelessness until the state gets to grips with the problem.

“There are radical solutions, but we have a conservative government who don’t like radical solutions. They are on the side of the banks, the side of the landlords, the side of the big international investment funds," he said.

They are not on the side of tenants who are struggling to pay the rent or people who are struggling to pay a mortgage.

He also criticised former Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Des Cahill, for suggesting homeless people shouldn’t be given tents.

Fr McVerry said: “What does he expect? You wouldn’t have to hand out tents if the council did its job and provided accommodation for homeless people. It’s much better to have a tent to sleep in than to sleep in the rain.”

At a UCC graduation ceremony later, Fr McVerry encouraged graduates to use the skills they have acquired for the benefit of society and not to see it as simply a path to a good career and a good salary.

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