Leaders' Questions

Last Friday, I visited the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People and met Brother Kevin Crowley and his team. Their work is truly heroic; it is the personification of true Christian values. Their simple objective is to relieve the hardship endured by homeless people. However, their work gives crucial insights into the failure of the various housing strategies and interventions to date to resolve the crisis. They are at the coalface and they see the daily realities of this failure in the context of the number of people turning up for breakfast, lunch and food parcels and, in particular, the extraordinary number of children in emergency accommodation who also attend the centre.

Their story at the coalface is one of a scandal that is becoming worse, especially for the children.

Some years back the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People was told that the emergency accommodation crisis for children would be solved. I will give the Taoiseach an insight. In 2013, there were 2,747 children attending for lunch. In 2016, there were 8,353 children. This is a 76% increase and a shocking indictment. They are extremely worried about the overall well-being of these children who are forced to attend the centre and the debilitating and damaging impact that emergency accommodation environment has on the children's development. It is heart-rending and the State is failing these children right now. Total presentations at the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People are close to 400,000 a year to avail of the various services. The costs are about €3.5 million. The State's contribution is €450,000, which is embarrassing relative to the scale of the crisis and the response of this centre to it. Ministers have visited the centre and the Taoiseach has visited the centre, and yet there was a social worker who retired in 2012 and that person has never been replaced. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has acknowledged the urgent need for a child welfare officer, particularly for child protection issues, but nothing has happened in this regard, and there have been a number of other demands and requests made.

The key point is that there is an enormous disconnect between the reality at the coalface, as evidenced by the daily work at the centre, and the official rhetoric about strategies and interventions. Housing policies are not impacting on this daily reality, which is getting worse. It is a fact that we are not building enough council houses. There is some ideological opposition across the system to that. It is appalling. Houses are not being built quickly enough and the emergency accommodation crisis is getting worse for children. This should be our overall priority.

I want the Taoiseach to recognise and acknowledge this reality and to work with the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People to attend to its immediate needs in recognising the reality of the emergency crisis for children and work to provide the officers the centre requires and the assistance the children require. This reality is not going anywhere soon. Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that the interventions to date have not made any dent on this appalling indictment of State policy?

This is part of the challenge we face as a society and as a Government in delivering and providing services for people in a various categories who have real problems in this regard. I have been down to visit Brother Kevin at the centre on a number of occasions. He is an extraordinary man and he has been doing this work for years. Obviously, the numbers who turn up at his centre speak for themselves.

It is not all without inactivity. The Government has allocated serious resources for tackling homelessness in the budget for this year, with €100 million being spent on homeless services. This is not an insignificant figure. In addition, the overall housing budget for this year is €1.3 billion. Deputy Micheál Martin and I have discussed this before and the issue is how quickly the necessary houses can be built. The Minister has set out targets for not having people in emergency accommodation and targets for providing accommodation for people who are homeless and sleeping rough or who are in hostels at various locations in Dublin. Some of the projects have been extraordinarily successful. In 2016, there were 3,052 households that exited homelessness, which is the highest level ever. The ambition is very high this year. Deputy Micheál Martin spoke of building houses, and work is under way on advancing 650 rapid-build homes in 2017. There will be another 500 units in 2018. O'Devaney Gardens is up the road from Brother Kevin's centre. That site has lain there for years but work is now under way.

There are places like George's Place in Dún Laoghaire with 12 homes, St. Aidan's off Brookfield Road with 71 homes, Poppintree in Ballymun with 22, Cherry Orchard in Ballyfermot with 24, and so on. Construction is under way in quite a lot of places. I agree it is by no means perfect and there are always gaps in the level of services that are provided. These issues are being addressed constantly, as Deputy Micheál Martin is well aware. The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has a special unit which meets regularly. It has provided incentives, opportunities and shortcuts for private enterprise to be able to build houses on public property and for local authorities to provide houses. The development of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme has made an important contribution, as has the provision of homes and services for those who have particular difficulties.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive confirmed a minimum of 142 people on its last count at the end of the year. Developments have taken place to provide beds in what are very good hostels. I have looked at a number of those. Brother Kevin does an extraordinary job. This is part of the enormous range of challenges the Government is trying to meet. We must have the engine that can drive our economy to provide these services, be it chiropody or dental or whatever, down in those centres. Deputy Micheál Martin may shake his head. It is not as perfect as one would wish but these matters are receiving real priority, not just from the HSE but from the different agencies to try to provide in the best and most effective way possible for many of these people. Part of that is putting €100 million on the table for services and €1.3 billion this year for housing for the homeless, social housing and so on.

I ask all speakers to try to adhere to the time.

That response - €100 million - is meaningless. The hotel money is an appalling waste. The Capuchin centre gets €450,000 and the Taoiseach is talking about €100 million for children in emergency accommodation. I will give the Taoiseach the figures again. In 2013, 4,747 children attended for meals at that centre. At the end of last year, 8,353 had attended. That says it all. There is a terrible disconnect between the official rhetoric and the reality.

The census figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, give the truth as well. A total of 2% of all houses and apartments occupied nationwide at the moment are new, built between 2011 and last year. Some 11,572 new houses were built in Dublin during that time. The Taoiseach knows the big difference between the CSO figures and those of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in terms of actual new builds. In no way is the response commensurate with the scale of the crisis.

One lesson that I took away from the Capuchin centre, which they wanted me to bring back to Leinster House, was the enormous psychological impact on the children in terms of the stigma of homelessness and the lack of any stable, permanent anchor in their lives. No officers have been appointed. The very least the Taoiseach should do is recognise the reality for those children and give additional supports and officers to the centre.

There are children who have challenges and particular difficulties from different parts of the country. Every local authority has at its disposal finance and services to provide in the best way possible for those children, and there are some with very particular difficulties, as the Deputy is well aware. The Government has made the decision to provide €5.3 billion to deliver social housing between now and 2021. The Deputy says there is a disconnect between that figure and the reality of what is happening on the ground. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing have told every single local authority: "There is your money. Show me your sites. Build your houses. Here are the incentives." Years ago, local authorities were very active in building houses. They range now between approved housing bodies and local authorities. The money is on the table. The housing assistance payment this year will accommodate 15,000 households and will help to keep people in their homes.

Last year, nearly 18,500 housing supports were provided from a housing budget provision of €935 million. It was spent in full for that very purpose – to keep people in their homes. This included nearly 5,300 homes that were built or purchased and 12,000 housing assistance payment tenancies.

Part 3 of the Minister's programme is the plan to build 25,000 units per annum, on average, by 2021.

Taoiseach, we will have to review all of this. We are 15 minutes into the debate.

Deputy Micheál Martin is well aware of the scale of the challenge in building the houses that were not built following the total collapse of the construction sector some years ago.