The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children expressed alarm at the high level of child homelessness and said drug and alcohol abuse was likely to be a major factor.
The statistics show an increase in the number of homeless children nationally in 2004 compared with the figure for 2003 of 476. A total of 534 children were deemed homeless in 2002.
The provisional figures were compiled by the HSE through their network of social workers.
2004 was the first year a standardised ‘contact form’ was used, allowing the child to declare him or herself as homeless before the situation was clarified by the health board.
The Department of Health and Children stressed the statistics were provisional and had yet to be validated by the HSE.
The number of homeless children increased in six of the eight health board areas.
The South Eastern area saw the most dramatic drop, down 38 children compared with 2003, while the HSE Southern area had the greatest increase, up 30 to 132.
The Eastern Regional Health Authority, encompassing Dublin city and environs, had the highest number of children deemed to be homeless at 210.
While the number of girls deemed homeless appears to have fallen by five compared with 2003, the number of homeless boys increased by 21, although the number of girls was still higher at 253.
A spokesperson for the department’s Childcare Policy Unit said while the children were deemed to be homeless, they were not necessarily living rough.
“It is different to adult homelessness, where often the person might be sleeping rough.
“With a young person it starts off living somewhere else, like a friend’s house or at a shelter.”
ISPCC chief executive Paul Gilligan said drink and drugs were likely to become more of a factor in youth homelessness.
“Thirty years ago poverty was a key factor, but where young people are concerned now, we’re going to see drug usage as a major factor in homelessness.”
Fr Peter McVerry, who has worked with child homelessness cases for decades, said there had been a “major failure to provide [emergency] accommodation where the young person is growing up”.
He added the situation regarding young non nationals was “appalling”, with “unsupervised accommodation with little or no support”.
A spokesperson at the Childcare Policy Unit said a review was “due any time now” on action plans, to gauge how many of them have been implemented.