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Taoiseach says increase in rough sleepers 'very disappointing'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has described as “very disappointing” the increase in people sleeping rough on our streets.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions, Mr Varadkar was commenting after Monday's rough sleeper count showed that 156 people were sleeping rough, which was a 40% increase since March.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said we know from last week's homelessness figures that there are now more people homeless in this State than ever before.

“We also know that the official figures actually understate the reality of homelessness across our society. The rough sleeper count, published yesterday, shows a 40% increase in the number of people sleeping rough since March. That is shocking,” she said.

“It is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of people across our society are affected by the housing crisis. Up and down the country, families are worried about whether or not they will have a roof over their heads come January,” she said.

In response, Mr Varadkar said the figures are regrettable but said significant sums of money are being made available to solve the problem.

Of course, when one thinks about Christmas, one's thoughts inevitably turn to those who are less fortunate, those who do not have a home to go to, those without shelter who are exposed to the cold.

"That is why the figures of rough sleepers produced yesterday were very disappointing, showing that 156 people were sleeping rough on that particular night,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar said the 156 figure is not the highest ever, by any means.

“It was higher a year ago and, in fact, it was higher four years ago. It represents an increase on the previous count in September,” he said.

“That is why we have set aside €60 million in the budget for additional investment in emergency accommodation. The first step is to get people into emergency accommodation.

"After that, more permanent accommodation can be found for them. An extra 203 beds will be put in place between now and the end of the year. In fact, 51 of them are already in place.

"The provision of 203 additional permanent beds and 130 contingency beds will ensure there is emergency accommodation for everyone who needs it this winter,” he said.

Ms McDonald highlighted the fact that Fine Gael has been in office for seven years and the housing crisis is getting worse. She called for the introduction of a 3-year rent freeze and a temporary tax relief for renters with immediate effect.

In response, Mr Varadkar said: “The Deputy is correct when she says that we have been in office for over seven years. However, she did not mention that we spent the first five of those years putting this country back on track.

"Perhaps she would like people to forget, or not to know, that we spent five years getting the public finances back in order, reversing some of the awful cuts that were made in previous years to welfare and to people's pay and salaries and dealing with enormous levels of unemployment.”