Adjournment Debate. - Accommodation for the Homeless.

The figures released yesterday by Focus Ireland on the number of homeless families living in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation are a shocking indictment of the type of society in which we live. In the Dublin area alone, it is now clear that 1,200 children and their families live in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation. In the space of ten years, the numbers of families in this type of accommodation has increased by an incredible 570%.

Under this Administration homelessness has reached a new peak and adopted a new and horrifying face. Yesterday's report vindicates what I have been saying for some time, that the largest growth in homeless figures is among children and their families. This aspect of our booming economy is very disconcerting and is something which the Government has failed abysmally to tackle.

This Administration wants to be judged on its record on the economy. Each member of the Government has learned by heart a mantra of facts and figures which he or she whips out when challenged over the management of the economy. However, facts such as those brought to light by Focus Ireland are hardly ever discussed and, where possible, are ignored. The people will judge the Government on its treatment of the weakest in society.

The 1,200 children and their parents who are roaming the streets of Dublin are not there by choice. They are there because of the Government's abysmal failure to manage the housing crisis. The fact that each morning over 1,000 children and their parents in the greater Dublin area are forced on to the streets at around nine o'clock after spending the night in a bed and breakfast is a crime. With no permanent accommodation, these families are forced to spend the days roaming the streets and public parks until nightfall when they can return to their temporary accommodation. The consequences of this type of lifestyle is very detrimental to young children. They are denied access to proper nutrition, an indoor play area, heating and the security of having a place they can call home.

Yesterday's Focus Ireland report served not just to vindicate what most of us know about the new face of homelessness but highlights the fact that hostel provision in this city is highly inadequate. Hostels cannot deal with the current demands and by 6 p.m. each day they are forced to turn people away to sleep on the streets. Bed and breakfast accommodation is now full with people who have been homeless for a prolonged period and people who have become homeless for the first time find it almost impossible to find accommodation in bed and breakfasts. It is clear that the inadequate supply of local authority housing and the unregulated nature of the private rented sector is pushing people on to the streets who in the past and during the worst economic dips would never have been at risk of becoming homeless.

Earlier this year when the Government published its strategy on homelessness I welcomed it to the extent that it pointed in the right direction. However, the report still remains largely on paper. At the time of its launch, the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, said that money would not be an object in implementing the recommendations. However, there appears to be some lack of will in implementing the recommendations. As the economy continues to boom and the number of disenfranchised children and their parents on the streets continues to grow, the Government needs to give a new seriousness and urgency to providing accommodation to those children who, in these bad winter days and nights, find themselves homeless in this city.

I was invited by Focus Ireland to launch its report on the use of bed and breakfasts as a source of emergency accommodation in Dublin and I was pleased to do so last night. As the Deputy is aware, the Government is very committed to tackling the ongoing problem of homelessness and, last May, I published a formal integrated strategy to tackle homelessness. This strategy provides for an integrated response to homelessness by all agencies involved, both statutory and voluntary. As part of the strategy, local authorities and health boards are drawing up local action plans, detailing how accommodation, health, settlement and welfare services will be provided to homeless persons by all the agencies involved in these areas. This work is ongoing at present and I have urged local authorities to complete these plans as a matter of urgency. I am pleased the action plan for the Dublin area is very close to being finalised. They asked for a short extension on the grounds that it was better to get it right than to meet a deadline and I agreed to that. However, it will be available shortly in a week or two.

A key element of the Government's strategy is the provision of additional and a greater variety of accommodation to cater for the varying needs of homeless persons, including homeless families. In particular, additional transitional and move-on accommodation will be provided to enable people to move out of emergency accommodation, whether in bed and breakfast accommodation or hostels, into accommodation more suitable to their needs. The strategy recognises that the lack of stability, privacy and necessary support structures makes bed and breakfast accommodation unsuitable for the long-term needs of homeless people, especially homeless families. Therefore, it is intended to phase out the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for anything other than short-term emergency accommodation of less than one month, especially for families.

At the instigation of my Department, Dublin Corporation, as a first step, carried out inspections of all such accommodation in the past year and entered into agreements with landlords whereby many of these facilities have been converted into shared living accommodation rather than simply bed and breakfast accommodation. The residents now have free access to come and go so that they do not have to vacate their accommodation during the day and there is 24 hour management and security. While this is a move in the right direction in that it resolves some of the acute difficulties, we still have a long way to go. This will take some time as alternative sources of accommodation will need to be found.

In the meantime, local authorities will need to continue to use bed and breakfast accommodation to accommodate homeless persons on an emergency basis, but the use of it will decrease as alternatives become available. In addition, local authorities, Dublin Corporation especially, are examining the possibility of adapting existing emergency hostels for single persons to make them more suitable for families as it is expected that many hostel spaces will be freed up through the provision of additional move-on accommodation.

I have made substantial additional funding available to local authorities to ensure the measures in the strategy are implemented. Capital funding for the direct provision by local authorities of accommodation for homeless persons is being doubled from £20 million to £40 million over the next five years and I have indicated publicly that current funding is being increased by £6 million per annum to increase bednight contri bution rates to voluntary bodies and other support services.

Output in the voluntary housing sector is being increased to a target of 4,000 units per year over the lifetime of the national development plan. It is expected that at least half these units will be provided under the capital assistance scheme which is used extensively to provide special needs housing for certain groups, especially the homeless. In addition, the expanded local authority housing programme of 25,000 units over the four year period 2000 to 2003 will also provide additional accommodation for homeless persons.

The use of bed and breakfast accommodation for other than a very short-term response to homelessness is not satisfactory. We already recognised this long before the publication of the report by Focus Ireland. We are clear in our overall strategy that we must eliminate the use of this type of accommodation and the Government is providing the resources by which this can be achieved.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 November 2000.