The appalling human impact of the homelessness crisis was revealed on RTE last night in "My Homeless Family". The unacceptable impact on families and children in particular was laid bare in this city and across the country. The programme was made possible by the bravery and dignity of the three families involved. There was Erica and her daughter; Sandra and Brendan; and Melissa. With great courage and dignity, they revealed the depressing and very dangerous nature and reality of homelessness in Ireland, particularly the reality of emergency accommodation in commercial hotels and unacceptable bedsits across the country. They put a brave human face on the statistics and anybody watching would have been truly shocked by what was revealed in that reality. It offends any sense of common decency and represents a defining indictment of the Government's neglect and misguided policies on this issue over the past number of years that have allowed this national emergency to develop.
Over the past three years, the Government has been warned repeatedly by all the non-governmental organisations dealing with homelessness, from the Peter McVerry Trust to the Simon Community to Threshold to Focus Ireland, that its policies were wrong and that the crisis was escalating. In 2012, we were looking at eight new families on average becoming homeless per month. This increased to 40 families per month in 2014 and between 65 to 75 families per month in the first half of 2015 - about three per day - with nothing being done.
In 2012, the Government sowed the seeds of this crisis by putting limits on rent supplement. We saw that last night. One of the families was driven into homelessness because rent supplement lagged so far behind the market rents. There has been a explosion of rents in Dublin and throughout the country in recent years.
The number of vacant houses lying idle is still 3,000. There is no urgency to get them filled by families who should not be in hotels but in those houses. At budget time, the Minister for Finance announced that NAMA was going to build 20,000 houses, only 2,000 of which were to be local authority houses. He should have insisted that 10,000 houses from NAMA would be social houses and instructed NAMA to do so. NAMA sold a massive number of properties to vulture funds but there is nothing for social housing in its construction plan.
Did the Taoiseach see the programme? Is he ashamed of the fact that well over 1,500 children are in emergency accommodation of the type we saw last night in the RTE programme? Will he change policy on rent supplement, which would be a practical move? Threshold told the Government that its policy on rent supplement is driving vulnerable families into homelessness. Will he change that policy? Will he instruct NAMA to at least implement a 50-50 split and build 10,000 social houses out of the 20,000 it says it will build? Will he move to eliminate the scandal of local authority houses lying idle while the nation must watch vulnerable families stay in hotel accommodation for well over a year and two years in some cases?