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Build more houses, not hostels, says campaigner as 4,000 children set to spend Christmas homeless

Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry says the Government should be building more homes not hostels to address the homeless crisis.

“Any 12-year-old can tell you that the current strategy is not working,” he told the Pat Kenny show on Newstalk.

Any business that kept getting worse results every month for two and a half years would know that their business plan was not working, he said.

“They should be building more homes not hostels which are only a solution for the problem of rough sleepers.”

Fr McVerry said there is a need to respect the privacy and dignity of homeless people. He called for the provision of single rooms for people accessing services.

Nobody is listening, they keep building dormitories. That’s a political solution so they can say beds are available, but people don’t want to use them.

He said that the most frequent complaint he got from people is that their personal items had been stolen. People were reluctant to sleep in dormitories because of problems with drink and drugs.

Sleeping with their shoes on was not enough as frequently their shoes were stolen from their feet while they were sleeping, he explained. People sometimes slept with their shoes and items under their pillow.

Fr McVerry pointed out that in 2009 his organisation provided beds every night for 57 people, in 2018 that figure was 1,200 and he expects it will be up to 1,600 next year.

“The numbers of homeless people has shot through the roof. Years ago I warned of a tsunami of homeless people and politicians laughed at me. I thought it might rise to 5,000, now that figure is 10,000.”

Fr Peter McVerry

He said it was obscene to have buildings sitting empty in the middle of a crisis. He did not understand why Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) could not be used to return the buildings to use as homes.

CPOs had been used to acquire land for the building of a ring road around Galway, he pointed out, but they could not be used to purchase empty houses, why was this he asked?

The budget for the Fr Peter McVerry Trust in 2018 was €28million he said, €8million of which they had to raise themselves. For 2019 it will be €33million of which €20million will be provided by the State and the remainder will be raised by the organisation.

When asked his hopes for 2019 he replied: “to go out of business.”

Meanwhile, almost 4,000 children will be without a home this Christmas.

The homeless crisis has shown no signs of slowing down this year with almost 10 thousand people staying in emergency accommodation this week.

Dr Sharon Lambert from UCC has worked with many homeless people.

She says one mother had to invent a way to calm her autistic son, when they change hotels.

"Because they have to move so often she had to devise her own strategy for dealing with that which is she gets her son to enter the hotel room backwards so that he is slowly introduced to the new environment but he would spend the first 24 hours banging his head against the wall because he is so distressed by the change."