I do not know Mr. Tony Paget, one of 5,000 or so homeless people on our streets, who was awarded a Just in Time award by the Irish Water Safety Council yesterday. Mr. Paget, a 26 year old man, with Mr. Dimitrios Paraskevakis, a civil engineer from Scotland working in Dublin, regardless of personal risk to themselves, rescued a Bus Éireann driver from the freezing waters of the River Liffey last Sunday week after an accident sent his bus into the waters below Butt Bridge.
The Celtic tiger and the Government cannot prevent such accidents. However, the Celtic tiger could end homelessness for Mr. Paget and the 5,000 people who, like him, face wind and rain in the doorways and passageways of our towns and cities tonight, 12 December, and every night. No doubt the Minister of State will say that the Government has increased the capital funding for the provision of services for homeless people from £20 million to £40 million. However, is this being done to solve the problem or just as a politically motivated hand-out? The money is spread over five years so it will be £8 million for the coming year. Regrettably the use of the money is unlikely to be scrutinised by the House as closely as it ought to be every six months or so, as will spending on BSE, and rightly so, and many other issues. The BSE crisis was given a blank cheque in the budget, highlighting the seriousness of the issue. How bad does the problem of homelessness have to become before it is allocated a blank cheque?
From its 30 years' work, the Simon Community has stated that homelessness is worse now than ever. Is this not a national scandal? Is the situation not worse than any titillating revelations from the Flood or Moriarty tribunals or the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and Health and Children or other sources?
More people sleep rough on the streets of Dublin than in the combined cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Oxford. The figure for homelessness in Dublin doubled between 1996 and 1999 and now involves 2,000 adults and 1,000 children. A total of 68% of those who sleep rough in Dublin have been homeless for more than a year and 30% for more than five years. When questioned by the Simon Community, 94% of them said they would take accommodation if available. Of the 12 people who did not want it, nine said they would take it if it was safe. It comes down to the fact that no one wants to sleep rough, despite the myths or ideas put out by the Government.
What is the Government's response to this situation? Hostels are important but they will not solve the problem of homelessness. We need to remove the requirement to involve the Garda, particularly in the case of minors, which leads to the criminalisation of a social tragedy. We also need a hotline for the homeless and a place which can be easily accessed for help and advice. There is a need for an advisory service for the training of the homeless so they can find accommodation and employment and rescue themselves from their plight.
There is a need to co-ordinate services for the homeless for which the Government has responsibility. In its pre-budget submission last year, the Green Party proposed Dideán, the Irish for shelter, as a co-ordinating body. I ask the Minister of State to take this idea on board so that every six months or so the House would scrutinise the progress being made to end homelessness once and for all.