This issue is very relevant in view of the report today. Why does a State which promises to do so much to protect the rights of its unborn children do as little as possible to protect and care for those children once they are born? It is estimated that there are at least 700 homeless children under the age of 18 in Ireland and that close to half of them are on the streets of Dublin. Existing services are grossly inadequate as is legislation and child care policy. Last year there was a monthly average of 31 callers under the age of 18 seeking accommodation at one of the centres for homeless youth in Dublin. Only 23 per cent of those seeking accommodation last year were successfully placed and the remaining 77 per cent were most likely not placed anywhere. Growing numbers of young people are seeking accommodation and these people are remaining homeless for longer periods. Young people are left in a tragic cycle of persistent and intermittent homelessness because of the lack of suitable organisations to help them. Their needs are obviously not being met through existing child care services. In the last five years the rampant growth of the problem was met by an increase of one emergency bed only while the number of non-emergency beds actually decreased. This illustrates the absence of suitable services for homeless youths in Ireland.
The lack of accommodation means that young people are exploited by the many desperate horrors of life on the streets. There is alcohol abuse, drug abuse and shoplifting. Crime and even prostitution are a means of survival for these homeless youths. Their means of survival create further problems for the Garda and for the District Court. The District Court cannot recommend suitable care for these children.
In 1990, 21 young people both male and female were sent to adult prisons where, instead of learning how to become productive members of society, they are learning how to commit crimes more successfully. Despite the passing of the Child Care Bill, 1988, through the Dáil and the 1990 declaration of the rights of the child, we still have these problems. We still have an alarmingly expanded number of poor, undernourished, exploited, unprotected youths on our streets. There is no new model of care to meet the needs of young people who can no longer remain at home. There are inadequate funds for the voluntary and statutory bodies who are trying to assist homeless youths. We have not sufficient emergency accommodation or short term, medium-term or long term accommodation. No Government Department have claimed responsibility for the care and protection of our children. The Child Care Bill, 1988, should be speedily enacted and we should ensure that it is implemented.
We need to respond immediately to young homeless people. We need emergency accommodation for them. If we could provide 100 emergency beds at a cost of £1 million in this city it would help eliminate the immediate problem. We need a secure unit for girls. We need short term, medium-term and long term care facilities and therapeutic facilities and training for child care workers. We should make provision not only to alleviate the problem but to prevent the problem occurring by providing funds for support services for troubled families strained by unemployment and poverty. It is important to have a 24-hour call service to help people.
Introducing such measures is the only way we can reduce the numbers of children in the streets. The problem is worsening. Fr. Peter McVerry faces eviction from the flat which he has made into one of the few hostels in Dublin for homeless teenage boys. Fr. McVerry has no problem with leaving the flat which he admits is grossly overcrowded, but only if he and his boys have some other place to go. There is no other place to go for either Fr. McVerry or his boys or for any other homeless youth for that matter. Caring for our homeless young people is not only a question of resources and funding, but also a primary question in relation to values and priorities in our society. The welfare of our young people must never cease to be a priority.