Child Homelessness: Statements

I thank the House for the opportunity to talk about this very important issue. One of the very first conversations I had when I was appointed was with a person working in the educational space about the difficult situations the person was encountering with children who were in emergency accommodation in terms of their development, learning and growing. From that very first induction into my job I was conscious of the need to place priority on the issue of children in emergency accommodation and making sure we were bringing in appropriate supports to help those children in all the needs a child will have in growing up, not only with regard to the crisis their family is experiencing at the time.

We last had statements on this issue on 21 December last, the day before the Christmas break. It is timely for us to debate it again and keep it on the agenda in order that we might keep coming back to the different measures we are introducing to make sure that they are both robust and bringing about solutions.

Earlier today, I published the latest figures collected from local authorities and released by the Department. The May figures show an increase of 57 adults, 12 families and 137 children and other dependants in emergency accommodation nationally over the past month. However, these numbers do not present a single picture or upward trend for the entire country. As we do more work and pull away more layers from the raw top-line numbers, we see that there was no increase in the number of adults accessing emergency accommodation outside of Dublin. In Dublin, there was an increase of 57 adults accessing emergency accommodation. This was a 1% increase on the figure for the previous month. The number of families accessing emergency accommodation in Dublin fell by 13 and, significantly, presentations were also down, with 79 families presenting in May compared with 90 in April. However, we again saw an increase in the figure for children and other dependants. This was due to a small number of new families with a large number of children accessing emergency accommodation. This is the second month in a row that this has happened. It is deeply worrying because exit pathways for larger families can be more difficult to secure. The figure for families outside of Dublin presenting seems to have stabilised, apart from an increase in the south-west region of 14. The specific reasons for this need to be examined further.

As Deputies are aware, I recently published two reports in this area. One was from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, which I had requested and which examined trends evident since the beginning of the year. The other report was from the homeless inter-agency group I established after the first housing summit last September in order to ensure a more co-ordinated and effective response from the Departments and agencies involved in the delivery of services to the homeless. I requested these two reports because I understand that the area is incredibly complex. It presents us with challenges that cannot always be solved simply by providing accommodation or homes. I sought recommendations and new solutions in order that we might continue to deliver on the progress being made under Rebuilding Ireland. Solutions such as Housing First have helped us achieve a 40% reduction in the number of people sleeping rough and a 90% retention rate for people housed through Housing First. A new national director was appointed earlier this year. We are rolling out Housing First tenancies across the country and a national plan is being drafted and will come to me next month. There are more solutions coming on foot of these reports. Some have been explored with the housing committee. This will continue at the third housing summit which is happening next Tuesday at the Custom House.

I will look more specifically now at the situation facing children in homelessness. As of May, we have 1,724 families, with 3,826 children and other dependants, in emergency accommodation. We thought the figure was higher but work undertaken earlier in the year discovered that a number of families were not in emergency accommodation at all but were in homes with no risk of entering emergency accommodation and had incorrectly been counted as part of the monthly reports. Work continues to identify further families and individuals who may have been inappropriately included in these numbers. It is important that we do this work for accuracy but our focus must always be on individuals and the supports they need. Of the approximately 1,700 families recorded as being in emergency accommodation, less than half are in hotels. This is still a sizeable number and, as we all agree, one family in a hotel is one too many. Finding solutions for these families in particular is a top priority for me and my Department. In 2017, more than 2,000 families left hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation and the majority went into homes. We know there are solutions that work; we just need to drive them harder.

The recently published reports tell us some distressing things, such as the fact that 65% of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin are headed by lone parents and one in five of these families is headed by a parent under the age of 24. They also tell us that a significant number of families have refused the housing assistance payment, HAP, instead choosing to go into or stay in emergency accommodation. Whatever preconceptions people may have about HAP or the private rental market, a home is far superior to a hotel or hub. We have to work to support these families into the rental sector where it is the most immediate practical response to their housing needs. If that means reforming HAP in some way, then we will do that. HAP is working for tens of thousands of people, just as the rental market, despite rent inflation, which is slowing down dramatically, is working for hundreds of thousands of people. Deputies in the House should take care that neither their words nor their actions put people off HAP and see them entering into hotels or bed and breakfasts instead.

Earlier this year, my Department made the HAP place finder service available to all local authorities. This provides that the local authority can pay a rental deposit and up to two months’ rent for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness. It also provides that my Department will fund 90% of the cost of a dedicated place finder officer to work with families to source suitable properties. Funding for a place finder officer has been approved in 17 local authorities that have requested this support. We also have seen that a significant number of families have refused a permanent social housing home in their area of choice and have remained in a hotel, hub or bed and breakfast. The reasons for this require further examination. It is very difficult for the general public to understand why this may be the case.

The reports also tells us a number of positive things, like the fact that the rate of increase of families accessing emergency accommodation slowed in 2017 in comparison with previous years. We saw dramatic increases in 2015 and 2016. This has slowed quite dramatically, particularly in Dublin. The trend in Dublin appears to be one of stabilisation with another fall in families accessing emergency accommodation in May and a decrease in presentations. This trend may be developing outside of Dublin too, with the exception of one outlier region that recorded a significant increase of 14 new families accessing emergency accommodation in the May report.

Families who presented to homeless services in 2016 spent an average of ten months in emergency accommodation before departing to a tenancy. In 2017, this time was reduced with families who presented to homeless services spending an average of four months in emergency accommodation before departing to a tenancy. In a one-year period that is significant progress for the families experiencing this crisis in their lives through no fault of their own.

Importantly, the report also highlights that families staying in hubs typically exit emergency accommodation into an independent tenancy within a shorter timeframe than families staying in hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation. This highlights the need for the delivery of additional family hub spaces. Over 530 families are accommodated in hubs and we expect to introduce an additional 400 such spaces for family accommodation in the next six to eight months which will help us to reduce our reliance on hotels for emergency accommodation. We never wanted to have to accommodate families in hotels and bed and breakfasts but we obviously could not allow families to sleep rough on our streets. As the crisis worsened, more families were accommodated in this way. No family need ever sleep rough because we have contingency rooms in place every night of the week. No family has to spend the night in a Garda station because we have contingency rooms in place every night of the week and we are developing more.

The reason the family hub is the more appropriate first response - I stress it is only a first response - is because it allows us to wrap all of the support services that are needed around the family in their time of crisis. As soon as the family go into the hub they are immediately met by a support team whose main aim is to exit them from homelessness. Supporting an exit from homelessness sometimes requires more than a house. Sometimes it requires broader social and welfare supports. Family hubs allow for a much more co-ordinated needs assessment and support planning for the family. Supports include appropriate play space, cooking and laundry facilities and communal recreation space while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured. Supports also include on-site access to welfare, health, housing services and other appropriate supports and free childcare for children. A special emphasis is placed on children from homeless families through the school completion programme. Schools with home-school community liaison co-ordinators are proactively engaging with parents from homeless families to assist access to any other supports that may be of assistance. Children in homeless accommodation are also being prioritised within the school completion programme for services such as breakfast and homework clubs. Leap cards are available to assist families in accessing transport links, thus minimising the risk of missing school days. This is much more stable and suitable than a hotel and the statistics tell us it is working. It is critical that best practice regarding child protection, child welfare and child development is at the forefront of our mind in every facility where there are children present. I speak on a regular basis with my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to ensure that robust child protection measures, inspection arrangements and health supports are in place in emergency accommodation for families. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has a strong commitment to the protection of families and children experiencing homelessness and I want to acknowledge that in the Chamber.

I have also met the Ombudsman for Children and the commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to discuss issues on homeless families. I have assured the Ombudsman we are doing everything possible to ensure the needs of children are foremost in the policies we implement and the services we deliver. I have visited many of the family hubs and met the service providers and many of the families and children staying in the hubs. The feedback from the families has been positive. While I would rather not have any families in emergency accommodation, the hubs certainly offer a significantly better and more child-friendly approach for short-term emergency accommodation than hotels and bed and breakfasts.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has an inspection regime in place for the family hubs to deal with complaints and to ensure targets are met and that accommodation is appropriate and safe. The inspection team has a work programme, which includes site visits and interaction with homeless families and individuals on issues arising in their accommodation. Separate to the existing inspection regime, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive has been overseeing the development of a quality standards framework with a view to having the finalised standards introduced on a national basis by all local authorities.

I understand that the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive will formally submit the framework to me shortly for approval. I look forward to receiving its submission and working with local authorities to further enhance and strengthen the arrangements in place across the country.

Finally, I pay tribute to all of the work being undertaken by the local authorities and the NGO service providers in this area. All these individuals face a difficult job and work tirelessly to provide supports to the individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. Supporting these efforts is a priority for my Department.

This is like groundhog day. During my previous contribution on homelessness in our republic in March, I concluded by pleading to Government to declare homelessness to be a national emergency. Our homelessness national emergency needs a whole-of-government response with daily targets and reports, rather than quarterly. I ask Government to do this now and to declare that the common good of our nation dictates that Government ensures a minimum standard of housing for all of our people.

If policies are not working then they need to be changed or dumped immediately. There are nearly 10,000 homeless human beings in Ireland today who need to hear a better response. I wish I could state that, today, there is a better reality to report but the fact remains that there are 3,826 children homeless today in this so-called "republic of opportunity". That figure does not take in the hidden homeless children in "Leo’s Ireland" and I commend Barnardos for their excellent research in this area.

Last December, during yet another debate on child homelessness, I had to report the sad reality of families being accommodated in my own hotel in Glendalough. These stressed families have young children who were being transported more than 50 km each day to get to school and struggle for some appearance of normal life. I wish I could state that, today, this disgraceful child homelessness has ended, but the fact remains that homeless Dublin families are still being forced to seek accommodation in my hotel in Glendalough, and beyond. What does it say about the crisis in child homelessness that we are putting tourists into homes in Dublin today while Irish families are crammed into hotel rooms throughout the commuter belt?

In one of my first contributions to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government two years ago, I was the first to raise the point that short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb were being abused in Dublin and that homes that could be used for our homeless families were being used to accommodate tourists. I warned about this and, at the time, I was accused of scaremongering and attacking Airbnb by vested interests. Two years later, Irish families are being transported to a hotel in Glendalough to escape homelessness while houses and apartments are being rented to tourists. If this fact does not make everyone in this House ashamed and disgusted, let me warn them what is going to happen when Pope Francis visits. Dublin city hotels and all accommodation providers will be jam-packed with attending delegates. Where will homeless families go? It would be sickening, wrong and a national disgrace if we were to ship these families away from the eyes of the media into faraway hotels. They should be given the platform that the World Meeting of Families provides to address child and family homelessness, not only in Ireland but globally.

There are warnings around the world about how cold governments can be about families that are homeless and looking for shelter. It is a little rich to lecture the United States about the horrific treatment of homeless immigrant families in Texas when, for years, the Government has failed to tackle child and family homelessness in Ireland. Fianna FáiI has tried time and again to urge the Government parties to act radically on child and family homelessness. Fianna Fáil has given them every opportunity to give the crisis the attention it deserves. The trauma suffered by Irish children because of their experience of homelessness in Ireland will mirror the trauma of children and families around the world. Governmental systems throughout the world pay too much lip service to caring about families experiencing homelessness, and do not take enough action.

This Government is currently part of the problem in tackling child and family homelessness. A national emergency should be declared now, before Ireland joins an international list of shameful responses to those in need of shelter, help, and a place to call home.

I am Fianna Fáil spokesperson on children and youth affairs. I do not have the briefings or the knowledge the Minister has about all the reports, other than what I listen to and what I read in the newspapers. I can, however, speak about the reality of what I am experiencing on the ground and what I hear from parents and families who are trying to live a normal life. They are going through an entire generation without having a place they can call home.

I debated this with the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Coveney, prior to Christmas 2016 and brought up the issue of children who do not have a back garden and who cannot bring other children home to play. In a normal day, children have play dates and hold birthday parties, celebrate other events, put up a Christmas tree or hang cards but many of the 3,826 homeless children do not experience this. The do not have the same opportunities as other children. They do not have a front door or a house they can draw on their colouring book at school, like we all did when we were young.

I never play politics with this issue and I do not criticise, but it is wrong. It is not solely the responsibility of the Minister and a whole-of-government approach is needed. Education has an important part to play in this, particularly the early years sector. When local authority development officers and liaison officers go out, they do not knock on the front doors of school principals to ask if there is enough room for children in the schools. They do not tell principals they are acquiring houses and they are looking forward to integrating children, and they do not ask if the necessary SNAs are in place. I know of a case where an approved housing body secured 11 houses but it did not engage with the secondary school or the national school about SNAs.

I also wish to mention how long it takes county councils to turn houses around. Galway County Council purchased ten houses in Portumna more than six months ago and it still have not managed to get people in the front door. Such delays are preventing children from having a normal childhood. The ten houses to which I refer should be occupied at this moment and children should be having the family experiences they need to have.

When families go before the housing liaison officer, they do not get the support they need in respect of education and health. They are tiring and wilting and they need help and support. They need to feel a little bit more valued than just being a number on a sheet of paper. Children need to feel that when their mother or father presents at a local authority office, they are valued. We had a children's referendum but their voices are not being heard and it is a shame that parents feel their child does not have a value. Parents do everything for their children but 3,826 children are homeless. The hubs are a significant improvement on keeping children in hotel rooms but they are not the solution. It is also unfortunate we have not moved away from using hotel rooms.

My final point is about student accommodation. Last year, 22 students slept homeless at the beginning of their year on Eyre Square in Galway because they could not find accommodation.

Student accommodation needs to be a priority and we need to look at how we can support these young adults. They do not want to put the burden on their parents when they cannot find digs or suitable accommodation. We need to have people within the city council and the county council who can assist those to whom I refer. People in third-level education should not have to sleep rough because they do not want to put pressure on their parents.

I thank the Minister for ensuring that the homelessness figures were published today. It will make the debate more informed and up-to-date. My first thought on reading the figures in the last 20 minutes is that I am ashamed to be a Member of this 32nd Dáil. That is because we are presiding over the single most dramatic increase in child homelessness on record. If the Opposition feels ashamed - and I do not say that in any glib way - then surely the Minister should also feel shame at being part of a Government that is presiding over this level of increase.

There are 9, 846 people who are homeless, including 3,820 children. That is an increase of 137 children on the previous month and a 27% increase on the same time last year. More than any other set of figures, these speak volumes. I am not surprised. Like all politicians on the Government and Opposition benches, I spend almost all of my clinic time dealing with families that are now at risk of losing, are losing or have lost their homes. I notice that the profile of those families is beginning to change. It is not getting any better - it is getting worse. An increasing number of working families that are not even eligible for social housing are coming in with notices to quit, are unable to find alternative private rental and are seeking assistance.

I want to focus on some numbers and then talk about the faces behind them. Since the Minister and the Taoiseach have been in office, adult homelessness is up 24% and child homelessness is up 60%. Since Fine Gael returned to office in 2016, homelessness is up 32% and child homelessness is up 80%. I repeat, as I always do, that these figures do not include those adults and children in hostels in Dublin city - approximately 100 of them that are not funded by the Department - and it does not include the 2,500 children who go through Tusla-funded domestic violence emergency step-down accommodation in a given year. It also does not include the 500 or so adults and children who have leave to remain and who are trapped in direct provision and using that as emergency accommodation or the 857 adults and children recategorised in the previous two months. How is it possible that the Minister can even mention the word "progress" when that is scale of the increase.

I agree with the Minister about one thing, namely, that behind these figures are real people. I refer to the single mum in inappropriate emergency accommodation - no matter what kind - who is far away from school and family supports, the pensioner who does not know if he or she has night to night accommodation or if he or she will have a roof over his or her head tomorrow or the rough sleeper. There are rough sleepers and that is because some emergency accommodation is not acceptable, safe or appropriate. Some people have no other alternative other than to sleep rough. That is not to criticise the enormous good work done by the vast majority of emergency accommodation providers, it is a reflection of fact.

This all tells us that Rebuilding Ireland is not working. It is failing not just these 10,000 adults and children but many tens of thousands more. The rate of social housing delivery continues to be glacial despite the fact that we have continually recommended reducing the 18-month approval process to six months in order to facilitate quicker delivery. Rapid build is the most misnamed housing development project in the history of the State because it takes almost as long as standard housing. The Housing First targets are far too low. We need 2,000 to 3,000 Housing First units over the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland to get long-term entrenched homeless singles out of emergency accommodation and not the 300 envisaged in the plan, albeit that those are welcome.

Action on vacant homes - particularly private vacant homes - is still too slow. The Minister has still not answered why, out of 1,800 vacant turnkey homes offered to the Housing Agency, only some 350 have been purchased. Action to prevent homelessness is mixed. There are some good initiatives - there is no doubt about that. The tenancy sustainment service from Focus Ireland is a case in point. If the Focus Ireland amendment to the Residential Tenancies Bill had been passed when we, along with others, tabled it in 2016, that would have kept hundreds, if not thousands, of families out of emergency accommodation. The Minister has a damn cheek to suggest that our criticisms of HAP is why people are nervous about it. There are good things about HAP but the fact that recipients are removed from the primary housing list acts as a disincentive. Fix it and leave those people on the primary housing list to meet their long-term social housing need. The Minister should be ashamed that he is failing these real people, these real adults and children, and he has to accept that his plan is not working and start listening to the alternatives being proposed by the Opposition. If he does not, we will be back here next month having exactly the same debate and that is not why I was elected to this Dáil.

There are 3,826 children homeless in this country. Between April 2017 and April of this year, the numbers of children homelessness increased by about 50%. That is the single biggest increase in child homelessness on record in the State. As my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, stated, these figures are an underestimate of the true numbers of children living in homelessness as they do not include children living in temporary living arrangements with families or children living with women in domestic violence refuges. The trajectories of these children lives have been changed by this experience. There is no doubt that the outcomes of these children's lives have been negatively altered, possibly, and most likely, for the rest of their lives.

Temporary accommodation arrangements are hugely detrimental to children short-term and long-term. Logically, there are social effects. For example, children have no place to call home, to bring friends back to, etc. It affects them physically as well. The food children eat is prepared within the home. Only a narrow range of food can be prepared in most temporary homes. It also affects their mental health because the stresses and the strains these children go through daily, because they have no home, is incredible. We saw a case, documented by Ombudsman for Children, where a woman and her two children, having left an abusive home, were waiting for two years before they were housed. The most vulnerable in society are being penalised again.

The Minister's party has been in Government for seven long years now. There are no excuses for the figures we are seeing, yet week after week, month after month, what we see is the Minister and the Taoiseach coming in here and uttering mealy-mouthed excuses in respect of what is happening with these reduced outcomes. Let us be clear - every Deputy here is directly and individually responsible for the actions taken. The Minister is responsible for all of those individual children who are homeless now and for the reduced outcomes of their lives. That is because the excuses the Minister makes weekly and monthly are not excuses of lack of ability, mistakes, mismanagement or uselessness, for want of a better word. The excuses he has given are designed to muddy the water and hide the fact that these children are homeless as a result of the policy decisions that have been made.

Fine Gael tolerates these figures and they happen because of the policy decisions that the Government makes year after year. It is interesting that, for the past number of years, we have been having a row about the use of funds. The use of investments and taxpayer's money is important in how a country is designed. In the past three years, however, this Government has given more than €1.5 billion back to mostly upper-income earners in this country. That is a massive message about the priorities of this Government. In his end-of-year speech, the Minister said that this is the main priority of the Government. That is nonsense. If it were the main priority, then the Government would not be allergic to social housing Bills, as it has been over the last number of years. It would not have been inert on the proper controls and regulations of rent over the last number of years. The Government would have been properly involved in the development of housing.

Let us look at even the private housing sector. Fine Gael is meant to be the party of the free market.

The private housing sector is the most distorted sector in the economy. The distortions which exist in that sector could not be designed. It is broken, partly due to the fact that the Government has a deference towards vulture funds and that tax breaks are given to foreign landlords en masse . The Minister could do many things to change this, but it breaks my heart to see the Government come into this House, month after month, and make excuses for the way things are. Let us call a spade a spade. We should be honest. The ideological position of Fine Gael and its policy decisions in recent years have resulted in these cruel figures. This has not happened by accident. I plead with the Government to take a different tack at this stage. It should pay heed to policies put forward by the Opposition and put them into action so that we see a dramatic reduction in these figures within the next 18 months to two years.

The homelessness figures for May, which have just been released by the Minister, are truly shocking. They show an increase in the number of adults, families and children without a home since last month. The figures show that there are almost 10,000 people homeless when the numbers of adults and dependants are added together. The most shocking aspect of this is that there are 137 newly homeless children included in the figures for last month. This demands action. The number of homeless children has increased, from 3,689 to 3,826, in the past month.

Today and tomorrow, primary school children will be getting their summer holidays. They will wave goodbye to their teachers and classrooms and will go home. They are looking forward to a summer of fun in their neighbourhoods and possibly a week or two in a holiday resort. However, those 3,826 children in homeless services face a very different prospect. They do not have permanent homes or neighbouring children to play with. They are probably sharing one or two rooms in a hotel with the rest of their family, with no space to play, to go outside and kick a ball, ride a bike or scoot on a scooter, as our children and grandchildren do during the holidays.

I do not believe we should leave the Dáil this summer until we have put a programme of support in place for families availing of homeless services for the period of the school holidays. I noted that the Minister spoke about the school completion programme, homework clubs, after-school clubs and transport to school, among other things. However, these children are going home from school for their holidays and they really need a programme of support. I ask that the Minister liaise with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in order to put a programme of support in place. This may mean organising trips to parks or that the children be enrolled in summer programmes, but those families really need extra help. They cannot afford holidays. They cannot even cook their own food; all of it has to be bought in. A range of supports must be put in place before the recess.

We must put a limit on the amount of time a child can live in a hotel or a bed and breakfast. We all know that Rebuilding Ireland promised to end the use of hotels, except for short-term use. I accept that it may be a short-term solution, but the promise was made. Rebuilding Ireland was published two years ago but that promise has still not been fulfilled. At my clinic the week before last, I met two families that had been in hotels for a year or more. We have to set a time limit. Deputy Ó Broin has pointed out how the number of children who are homeless has increased since the Government took office. From April 2017 to April 2018, the number of homeless children increased by 36%. We cannot talk this away. It needs focus, action, a plan and a time limit.

The Minister looks quite deflated today. His intentions are good, but we really need more of a focus and more urgency. Time limits have to be put in place. Many Members of the Opposition have suggested that there should be a statutory right to housing or a referendum on the issue. That would focus minds within the housing authorities, which would have to deliver then. I know a little bit about the Scottish situation, but not much about the other 81 countries where people have a constitutional or statutory right to housing. My understanding is that this would ensure that the kind of urgent focus we need is applied to this issue, and it should be looked at as a potential solution.

The Minister will meet the CEOs of the local authorities at a summit next week. He should say a number of very specific things to them. The Minister indicated that he supports them in doing what they are supposed to do, but he should take out the stick a little bit more and tell them what they have to do. We have all spoken about the number of vacant homes, both private and public. The void scheme has ensured that publicly-owned local authority houses have mostly been brought back into use. However, the number of privately-owned vacant homes is still very large. The vacant homes officers who have been appointed should be told to focus solely on bringing vacant houses back into use. They should not have any other duties. Such an approach has been effective in Britain. The Peter McVerry Trust has also used it successfully in Ireland. The situation is absolutely urgent, and this is perhaps the quickest fix possible. The Minister must also impress upon the CEOs that they have to prioritise families in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation and get them into homes. Recently, I spoke to a Labour Party councillor who said that the CEOs must consult councillors when the disposal of publicly-owned land is proposed. The Minister does not have to be notified when that is done. I suggest that he should have to be informed if any CEO proposes the disposal of lands which could be used for social and affordable housing. He should also go back to the drawing board and ask every local authority to come up with a plan for every vacant site that is appropriate for housing. That process is taking far too long and it is also not achieving the correct mix of housing. Those of us on the Opposition benches would like to see these sites used exclusively for social and affordable housing.

I want to talk about the families that are now homeless. I urge that the Bill I introduced in July of last year - the Housing (Homeless Families) Bill 2017 - be progressed. It passed Second Stage with support from everyone in the House, for which I am thankful. However, it still has not progressed to Committee Stage. The support of the Government is required to move it on. The Bill will ensure that local authorities and housing authorities have to respond to the rights of the child. In addition, it would impose a legal obligation on the local authorities to act in the best interests of the child when his or her family becomes homeless. I want to see progress on that Bill. I also want to ensure that there is an immediate focus on those families with children who are saying goodbye to school this week. Post-primary students have already finished school for the summer. The fact that so many families will live in hotel rooms for the summer is intolerable. The needs of such families have to be prioritised immediately. They should be given the kind of supports they need to have some kind of normal summer, and also in terms of prioritising them for the housing that is in place, whether vacant homes, local authority homes or private homes.

I also want to raise the issue of prevention. I acknowledge that some measures have been taken to prevent homelessness, including HAP among other schemes. In Britain, there is an obligation to intervene much earlier. A similar approach has been proposed in housing debates in this House on previous occasions. As soon as a local authority becomes aware that a family will potentially become homeless, it should intervene at that point rather than waiting until the family actually is homeless. Much more can be done to keep families in their homes, particularly if they are in private rented accommodation, to prevent them from becoming homeless. That solution is much better, particularly for children in those families.

We are talking again today. We have spoken about the housing crisis many times in this Chamber. It is an emergency, but I really believe that specific actions must emerge from this debate today. The Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy English, are present. I hope they will take on board the various proposals coming from this side of the House, for both the short term and the long term, in order to ensure to ensure that we get rid of this blight on our community and this distortion of childhoods of so many young people.

I note the figure today is 3,826 and we must ensure that we are not looking at an even higher number in respect of the June figures. The Minister should give us a programme of action after this debate and should use the summit with the chief executive officers, CEOs, of the housing authorities next week as they have a very important role here as well. Housing is not always prioritised by CEOs of local authorities but it needs to be the absolute priority and that should be the message the Minister gives to them when he meets them next week. I hope we see a decrease in the figures next month.

The misery, suffering, hardship and cruelty that are being imposed on thousands of children, the 144,000 people on housing waiting lists and the 10,000 people who are homeless are simply intolerable and the position is getting worse and worse. The more we talk, the worse it gets. It is the bitter fruit of the disastrous decision the Minister's party took in 2011 - alongside the Labour Party it has to be said - to stop building council housing and to outsource it to the private sector. It is also a consequence of the failure for years to admit there was a crisis and the Minister's continuing failure to do what is necessary. I am sick of it.

Two weeks ago, I read an email from a woman with three children to the Minister. I will tell her story again, because there is a postscript to it now. She originally wrote to me that due to the housing assistance payment, HAP, rules, she was not able to rent a house in Enniskerry, as she could only get a payment of €1,500 for Wicklow. She told me that the following Friday, her family would move into a hotel in Bray, which would cost the public €4,390 a month. She asked if it would not be easier and cheaper to let her have the Dublin rate. She told me she would email Deputy Eoghan Murphy and her local Deputy, Deputy Simon Harris, as a matter of urgency. It had taken her three months to find a house in Enniskerry. She wrote there was nothing in north Wicklow for less than €2,000 and Dublin was even higher. She was angry, upset and scared. Her daughter was totally distraught as she had been all set to move into the new place.

This woman had found a place. An official named Mary, who works with the Minister, contacted the HAP office. Officials there said they were sorry but there was nothing they could do. In Enniskerry, about 200 m away from where that house is, one can get the Dublin limit. The Dún Laoghaire-Bray border cuts through that gap. In the case of houses that literally are a stone's throw from each other, an applicant can get €1,950 from HAP for one but only €1,440 for the other. The property costs €1,950, which is the Dublin limit. As a result, this woman is now in a hotel, costing us €4,300.

This woman wrote to me again to touch base. She wrote that the day had been tough. It had been the first day that she had really felt wobbly. She wrote she could feel the darkness coming. Her mental health is a huge issue and trying to keep everything together was starting to take its toll. She had made an appointment to see her GP the following day. At that point, it had only been five days since her family moved into the hotel. She wrote that she did not know what triggered it but that morning, she woke up and just knew that things had shifted. She wrote she was scared for herself and her children. Her eldest had a summer job and her middle child was in the room as she wrote, trying to block it all out. Her daughter had been at school but would finish the following day. She added a few things it is better not even to mention but they are not good things. She told me she was sorry to tell me about all of this and said she had been down the dark road of suicide before. She was scared that this would go on and on. She did not know how she or her children would cope. This is what is going on and I am just absolutely sick of it, as are the people who are suffering in this regard.

I have to hand some pictures of emergency accommodation in Stillorgan. One shows cockroaches crawling through the place. Another shows a dead rat. Another picture shows food that must be kept in plastic bags to prevent it from being affected by the rampant mould in the place. I also have correspondence from people who are in Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, accommodation in Clonskeagh with their children. The children do not have a proper place to play. Another resident - they are not blaming the resident but the children probably should not have been in the company of that resident - gave the children a BB gun. Young children were running around with a BB gun, which is a very dangerous weapon for a young child. There are complaints. I believe they have written to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, about the way this was handled. The literature describing this emergency accommodation states children's safety will be the absolute priority and that there are protocols for dealing with all this kind of stuff. None of that has been followed. The residents are thinking of taking legal action over the State's negligence in ensuring the welfare of their children.

The stories multiply. I get calls every week from the hub in Dún Laoghaire about the difficulties people are facing in there. They are told to avail of the HAP. They are told there is a thing called a place finder service. This is an absolute joke. There is no place finder service because there are no places to find within the HAP limits. They do not exist. The people who work in the council know they do not exist and that is why they do not really provide a place finder service. The places are not there. If people are lucky enough to find a place, it is over the limit and then they cannot get the uplift to the place. Such people are stuck in the hub, the hotel or the emergency accommodation in these kinds of conditions with their mental health breaking down, terrified for the welfare of their children. It just goes on and on.

What really drives me around the twist is that side by side with such examples, in my area perfectly good apartments are sitting empty on Dún Laoghaire's main street. These are just the ones I know about. I have mentioned them three times in here. They are in the hands of Apollo Global Management, a vulture fund which bought them from the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. It is sitting on eight or nine perfectly good properties that sit there empty; properties in which these families could be living.

I refer also to the Robin Hill apartments in Balally, where 25 apartments that were sold by NAMA are sitting there. NAMA refused to give them to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council when it asked to buy them. They are still sitting there empty six or seven years later. Nothing has been done about it. Cerberus Capital Management, the vulture fund that owns them now, is watching the value of that property clock ever upwards. Cerberus will walk away without paying any tax because the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, introduced tax breaks to invite in these people to speculate on Irish property. They will pay nothing on the rental income on the ones they do rent and they will walk away without paying a cent in capital gains tax on the ones sitting there empty.

That is what is going on. The misery of these families and children is the flip side of the coin of the extortionate, greed-driven profiteering of vulture funds and landlords that the Minister's policies have facilitated and continue to facilitate. I ask him, where is the place finder service that will knock on the door of Apollo and demand that those apartments are made available to the people who are suffering in the hubs? Where is that place finder service?

If one goes down to the offices of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, one does not see a sign saying "Place finder service". I am sure it is the same everywhere else. There is no place where it is sitting there and one can go in. That is what there should be. There should be a big sign saying "Place finders: we are the people who help you find a place". They should be sitting there in the morning and people should be able to know that they will be there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People should know there are people working for the council whose job is solely to look for those places and who have the power to take them and give them to the people who are homeless. Anything less is just nonsense at this stage.

Then there is the fact that public land is being sat on. It is reported that 114,000 dwellings could be built on the lands that the local authorities and NAMA have. What is happening on these sites? For the most part, absolutely nothing. That does not even take in to account semi-State bodies like CIÉ, which sells sites to Mr. Johnny Ronan down on Spencer Dock

That is what they have done in London. The transport authority in London is using its property to provide affordable housing. What does CIÉ do? It is allowed by the Government to sell it to Johnny Ronan, who then goes into NAMA, buys his way out of NAMA eventually with the support of - guess who - the vulture funds, and is now back in business building properties on Spencer Dock that nobody will be able to afford. The value of the property is clocking ever upwards but the misery of the people living in homeless accommodation or waiting 15 or 20 years on housing lists goes on and on. When are we going to do something about this? It requires radical action. It requires doing things that so far the Government has refused to do, namely, get those properties. It must pass whatever emergency legislation is necessary to get those empty properties and commence immediately building public housing on the land we have. Otherwise, this human misery will just get worse and worse.

I echo the comments of my colleague, Deputy Boyd Barrett. Three years ago, I met the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, and highlighted my concern at the time at the inappropriate accommodating of homeless children in hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts and at the lack of action by the Government in tackling the crisis. At that time, I also met the Children's Rights Alliance regarding the inclusion of children experiencing homelessness in its report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. That summer, during the week of 24 to 30 August 2015, there were a shocking 707 homeless families and 1,496 homeless children but by the week of 21 to 27 May 2018, in the most recent figures made available, those numbers had jumped dramatically to 1,724 homeless families with 3,826 homeless children.

Shame on Fine Gael, shame on Fianna Fáil and shame on the private landlords for commodifying housing and pushing such huge numbers of families and children into homelessness. We know that rising and unaffordable rents are one of the main causal factors of family homelessness and yet nothing real has been done to address this. The previous Government spoke about measures such as rent caps but as the Minister well knows, we are still seeing inexorable rises. The strategy of Rebuilding Ireland is to push more and more families into the private rental sector through the housing assistance payment, HAP, programme, which is not stable, does not provide security of tenure and is not value for money. The Minister might have heard me speak some time ago to the Tánaiste about families who are being evicted from HAP tenancies. The cost-benefit analysis of investing in housing stock or lining the pockets of private landlords would clearly show where the longer-term financial gain would be, not to mention the main benefit of providing greater security for families and their children.

Focus Ireland’s report, Finding a Home: Families' Journeys out of Homelessness, by Dr. Kathy Walsh and Brian Harvey, which was published last November, showed that the negative impacts of homelessness abated more quickly for those families who were rehoused in local authority accommodation or with an approved housing body compared with those placed in HAP accommodation, for the simple reason of uncertainly and the feeling children have. I am sure the Minister has met them himself. They experience great fear about the fact they do not have a forever home like most children.. It is interesting to note that the report found that the speed of adjustment did not appear to be linked to the duration of homelessness.

Last year, Barnardos produced a briefing paper, Faces Behind the Figures of Child Homelessness, which stated these children are being robbed of their childhoods and this will have lifelong implications for them and for all of society. In the years to come, perhaps in the not too distant future, Ministers will be held accountable and even people who served in the previous Government and the Government before that will be held accountable for this. We have had apologies recently for horrendous deeds done to citizens in the dark chapters the Taoiseach has spoken about. Here we are, living in a dark chapter, and the Minister and his colleagues have the power to bring it to an end with Fianna Fáil, in the joint Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Government, but they are absolutely refusing to do that.

Hidden homelessness is often mentioned in the national discourse but it is not recorded. Week in, week out Deputies meet some of the huge number of families with children who are living in cramped and overcrowded accommodation, sharing with family members or friends and couch-surfing, which, unfortunately, we have all had to get used to in recent times. We have had the report from Leilani Farha, the special rapporteur for adequate housing with the United Nations, which supported calls for a right to housing to be included in the Constitution. That could be done on 26 October if the Minister wanted to do so. A right to housing could be put into the Constitution. Several Bills have been introduced by colleagues in the House asking precisely for this to happen.

Yesterday, we spoke a lot about Europe, as we will do in the coming days. Given it is a European-wide problem, to what extent has the Minister sought support from the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived? I know the Minister and the Government have done some work in this regard but have they really exploited the possibilities of getting serious funding for our local authorities to rebuild their stock and give them a housing arm?

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the tireless work of the volunteers behind the #MyNameIs campaign, including Mick Caul, Erica Fleming and others; Anthony Flynn and the team in Inner City Helping Homeless, ICHH; the agencies working with, and advocating for, homeless children and families; the volunteers behind the North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, who work very hard to have fun days out at Christmas and Easter, and all the teachers who support homeless children in their classrooms and bring understanding to their awful living conditions of these children. The Minister has an historic task here and he is flunking it.

Every single one of us here should be ashamed of the horrendous human misery, not only for the homeless but also for the number of people on housing waiting lists and of our failure to deal with the issue. So much for our republic of opportunity. It is opportunity for some and misery for others.

Five years ago, we had a referendum on children's rights. In many areas, all that means is the right of children to queue for services that do not exist. It certainly is the case for the 3,826 children who are homeless. The commitment by the Government that no family would be in a hotel or bed and breakfast by 1 July last year has been a failure. By the Government's own standards it has been failure. How ironic that statements are now coming from hotels that they will have to move out homeless families when the Pope comes over. No room at the inn in our so-called republic.

According to the ISPCC, one in three homeless people are children. There has been a 287% rise in child homelessness in the past three years, which is the worst record in Europe. To find a solution it is necessary to examine how this situation came about. It is not difficult to trace the origins of the housing and homeless crisis. For the past 30 years, there has been a concerted policy shift from council housing directly built by local authorities to a policy of rent supports in the private sector. This was accelerated by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government from 2011 on. The effect is dramatic if one looks at the figures. In 1975, local authorities built 8,794 council social housing units. That equated to one third of the total build. In 2005, 5,559 local authority units were built, just 6% of the total build. In 2015, 75 local authority units were built. In 1961, 18.4% of housing was council stock but in 2011 it was 8.7%, which is a 50% reduction. This is because of housing policy.

This policy shift was exacerbated by the austerity cuts to local authorities, with cuts of up to 25% to staff and funding. For example, if the 2009 level of local authority building had been maintained we would have 31,000 extra units now, which could have made a significant impact on the crisis. Another example of the effect of this policy shift is shown by the growth in housing waiting lists. In 1996, 28,000 were on our national list, the figure in 2016 was 91,600, and it is now well over 100,000. A total of 20% of those on the list have been on it for seven years and 50% have been on it for more than five years. We also have the hidden homeless who have been mentioned.

Rent support was introduced in the 1970s as a temporary income support. It was not introduced as a housing policy and it is really important to make this clear. That changed with the introduction of the rental accommodation scheme in 2009 and the HAP in 2011. This is a policy of subsidising the private rental sector to the tune of €500 million a year in an attempt to create a new landlord class. The attempt to create a broad-based Irish landlord class has failed, as shown in the number of buy-to-lets in mortgage arrears, the high number of buy-to-let repossessions and the fact their repossessions and evictions of tenants is a key factor in driving up homelessness.

Policy was adjusted to encourage foreign investors in the sector. In 2013, real estate investment trusts, REITs, rental profits were made exempt from corporation tax and from that point on there were significant increases in the number of investor house and apartment purchases. The figure was up to almost 40% in the first quarter of 2017. For the policy shift to work, investment in the private rental sector must be attractive, which means highly profitable. This equates to huge house prices, high rents, limited security of tenure and no effective rent caps. It also means there will be a continuing housing and homelessness crisis. Over 3,000 homeless children are collateral damage for the Government.

It is also an expensive policy for the State. If the target relating to HAP in Rebuilding Ireland is reached - it is 87,000 new units - the cost will be €23.8 billion higher than building a similar number of council units. This is the madness of capitalism and the failure of Rebuilding Ireland. If Fianna Fáil is so concerned about the emergency, it has the opportunity, by means of the confidence and supply agreement, to make a real difference to homelessness in the context of budget 2019.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this matter. We can have all the statements, post mortems and debates in the world but the reality is that there is a serious problem with homelessness and a lack of housing. Unless we change once and for all, we are sort of tinkering at the edges. Unless we change certain things, we will be here next year and the year after talking about this. We need to work in a co-ordinated way. If any of us was a Minister today, we could not wave a magic wand and solve this overnight. We must be honest about that.

There are a few matters to be addressed. Builders currently get a good kicking in this house but they are paying up to 15% interest on building loans. They will pay a part of the profits and they will be screwed for bonds. The reality is that money is not attainable on that side of things. Whether people wan to believe that or not is up to themselves. It is what people on the ground know is happening. Deputy Boyd Barrett is correct that there are many sites throughout the country that are increasing artificially in value. They cannot be built upon. If we look at Sky News, Fox News or Euronews, we can see that Germans and people of every other nationality are looking at the shortage of houses in this country. They believe this is the investment they need. Deputy Boyd Barrett correctly stated that there are investment companies and vulture funds getting these people to invest money here. The bubble has not burst and will not burst because the investors do not know the facts. These sites have been bought at a price at which it is impossible to build houses because the builders would not get the price to cover construction. That fact must be faced up to. The investors will get a ferocious shock down the road.

We must be honest about this. If I was a Minister this minute, there is no magic wand I could use. We can kick a Minister and give out to him or her but we must change the system of delivery. We have all the planning in the world and we have introduced policies for the past ten years. I see policy document after policy document but ultimately it is about the blocks and mortar that build houses. It is not about talking. We have been here before debating provisions allowing people to live over shops, as that might free up accommodation for some people. We spoke about it and another Deputy educated me about it. There are certain provisions for disabled access, which I agree with, but not every place in an old building will be suitable in that way. Although we spoke about this in the Dáil a long time ago, not one council can sort this out without planning, which goes against the intention. Unless we start working on this, we will not solve the problem.

The Project Ireland 2040 plan indicates that we will have between 225,000 and 290,000 more people in Dublin. However, we cannot house the numbers that are there at the moment. Are we going to think outside the box and get a bit of regional development? Will we see incentives for tax-free areas or something like that to entice people to other parts of the country, including rural areas? They may want to go. Will we give them facilities, including transport, that might bring about a workable solution? It might not be for everyone but it will be for some.

There is another big problem coming down the line. I have spoke with members of the Construction Industry Federation and I have seen this day in and day out. I come from a construction background. I have driven diggers but one cannot get a digger driver in Ireland currently. I have spoken with Senator Ian Marshall and he tells me a machine driver will now go to England the minute he or she has a ticket for a job paying £27 per hour. We are in trouble. If we cannot dig out a site and prepare foundations, we cannot build a house. It is the same with the roads. We are living in a little fantasy world thinking that houses will appear from somewhere but we do not have the foundations we require in place.

We need to look at different ideas to entice people. Some people will criticise me for saying the following straight out. Now and again I see on the television people complaining about a house not being big enough. I grew up in a two-bedroom house from the day I was born and it did us for a while until I could build my own house. We had to do with it because we did not have the money to do any better. That must be said. We did not have all the luxuries. I slept in a room where my mother and father, God rest them, were for a certain length. It was the reality in parts of rural Ireland, where ten and 12 people lived in a house. We were all right as there were four of us. The girls were in one room but I was the lad so I had to go somewhere else. It must be said that it will not be all lovely for a while when people are in a position where they cannot provide for themselves.

We must start addressing the lack of house building. The State owns much land, including in the big cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick where there are major housing problems. We need a system where the land can be brought on board and there must be a delivery system. We can have all the plans and ideas but if there is no delivery system, we are stuck. We should face the fact that councils are not fit to deliver because the volume we need will not come from just tipping along and building a few units every year. We need a ferocious effort to be put in. When this is done, we must put in a certain amount for the gardaí, nurses and people on average wages and cannot afford homes. Unless we decide to help them as well as providing social housing, we will have a major problem.

It is grand to talk in here. Six months ago we discussed living over the shop, an idea I raised during talks to form the Government a long time ago. We are proceeding at a snail's pace, however, and somebody must wake and say this should be done in a week or two weeks. It should not be about passing it here or there and waiting a while for reams of paper with no delivery. Until we start doing things like that, we are going nowhere. We need to look at the broader picture and include transport as well. Driving from A to B, infrastructure is the problem. It is fine that every youngster wants to go to college but even if we have the most highly-educated people, if we want an office for Google, Facebook or anybody else in any city, we will need somebody to dig the road and put in the stone. We have a problem with quarries and the environmentalists do not want us to take out stone, although they want houses.

One plus one is amounting to four in that case and what they are talking about does not add up. The Department has gone down the road of making it hard for quarries to survive. They cannot survive. The small quarries are gone because of the way legislation is being designed. That means everything is dearer. It means that the likes of CRH can rule the world and that the prices of all the products are going up. The small operation is kicked around the place and is no longer feasible. There is no point in saying that the opposite is the case.

We need to go back to the basics. We need to ensure that we have the skills. Regardless of whether we like builders, the reality is that we need them. If we do not have people who are skilled in building, then we may end up solving one problem, that is, the money, but saddled with another, namely, that relating to sites and getting State land. The third problem is ensuring that we have people to build. At present, we have a major problem throughout the country. There are many investment funds. As Deputy Boyd Barrett pointed out, the vultures are sitting on land. The land is at a price such that no one could afford to build a house on it. A person would need €500,000 for some of the houses once we include all that is needed. Who can afford that? Until these matters are addressed, the Department is in trouble.

The Minister informed us earlier that the figures for this month show an increase of 12 in the number of families that are homeless. A total of 57 adults and, heartbreakingly, 137 children have become homeless since the previous set of figures. The Minister told us not to panic and that the figures do not paint the whole picture. He set out other provisos to try to convince us that things are not as grim as they seem, but they clearly are. Then again, no one here has children who are homeless. However, we know the people who have because we see them coming through our doors and we see the impact it has on them.

While we talk about this matter, as we have done 100 times before, outside these doors the numbers simply keep on rising. These are not simply numbers, they are real people. The lives of over 3,000 actual children are on hold or up in the air. Their future is uncertain and their opportunities will be limited. Unless their situations are reversed, the cycle of lack of opportunity will continue. They will be subject to the inevitable disadvantage and social exclusion that results from a childhood spent on the periphery of society.

The "My Name Is" campaign has done a good job in putting faces to the statistics. The various outreach groups on the front line have helped as well, including Inner City Helping Homeless, Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, Simon Communities Ireland and Threshold. They are doing amazing work on a day-to-day basis but it is merely scratching the surface. I have heard those organisations described as "our partners" by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, as if they are the providers of public services. They were set up to fulfil a function but they were never meant to provide public services. They have a different function. In any event, all this prevents them from fulfilling the role of advocating more strongly when there is a dependence coming from the Department as well. That is an entirely unhealthy situation. We cannot allow a situation whereby voluntary NGOs are expanding in order to try to pick up the pieces. That should be done by the Government and the local authorities.

I commented on this issue three years ago and said it was a great irony. When a mother and her newborn baby are leaving a maternity hospital, the staff will not let them leave unless a baby seat is fitted in the car. However, no one inquires whether they have a home. There is a great irony in that. I have come across situations where people have left hospital and entered into a situation of homelessness. I imagine others have as well. Where are those children to go once the mother has left the hospital? How can they get developmental checks when they are on the move all the time? What about the visits from the public health nurse? What about the other safety nets through which children are increasingly falling? The Department of Education and Skills is not entirely engaged with this process. We find that children are missing important milestones.

I have also heard alarming reports of concerns – I will not put it any stronger than that – on the part of some public health nurses about the rate of sudden infant and cot deaths. That needs to be examined to see whether the concerns are real. I have no wish to scaremonger but that requires some consideration.

We cannot continue to appease our consciences by claiming that homeless hubs are the solution. In reality, they are modern-day tenements. They are potentially worse because there is no long-term security for the families. That permeates everything. Often, I find that the parent is utterly stressed when she comes to meet me. I know that transfers through the family. The first time someone came through the door of my constituency office and told me that she and her seven year old child were sleeping in a car was in 2014. We were told that this was a supply side issue and that it takes time to build houses. That was four years ago. We keep being told that it takes time to build houses. However, the number of local authority houses that have been built since then is negligible in comparison to the increase in the problem.

Several issues have been raised in this debate. One relates to place finder team. The week before last, I was dealing with five families who are homeless. One family was not actually homeless but was going to become so the following week. I contacted the county council and was told off. I was told to send them here and send them there. Apparently, we were "misdirecting" them – that was the term used. I do not know where I should have directed them, but, in any event, apparently I was misdirecting them. It might take several weeks before these homeless families can be assessed. I know this sounds daft, but sometimes I envy the services in place in Dublin, which has a specific homeless service. I realise I should not say that, because the epicentre of the problem is in Dublin city centre. I call on the Minister of State to show me this place finder team and to prove that it is working, because I do not see it.

The actual homeless figures that are published do not include the number of children who are in overcrowded and temporary accommodation. Some are self-accommodated with relatives and friends. It is not unusual to see whole families sharing one bedroom that a relative has offered. I imagine other Deputies will testify to the same thing. That is self-accommodation but it is not really counted as homelessness. The definition of "homelessness" is the absence of "one family, one home". That was one of the housing action group demands in the 1960s or early 1970s. Yet, here we are after a vast amount of so-called development and we are further back in some cases than we were in the 1960s and early 1970s.

I have said before that I believe we need a war effort to deal with this. However, I do not see such an effort. Moreover, I do not believe the figures I see coming from the Department. We were told three or four years ago, during the term of the previous Government, that money was not an object. I am of the view that we have misspent much of it by investing in HAP as a solution. HAP has not delivered additional houses.

Approximately 7,500 individuals or families are on waiting lists in Kildare. Housing is certainly being built. I see housing estates being built in my area, but I do not see the number of units that need to be built.

Many are very expensive and I do not know how people will be able to afford them, which is another issue.

Not long into his tenure, the Taoiseach told us that when one compared the Irish homelessness situation with that of other countries, it was not a whole lot worse. I am paraphrasing him, but the problem is that a sense of normality has crept into this debate. There is a normality about children not having the security of their own homes. There is also normality about the kind of homelessness figures that are produced monthly and that we need in order to measure whether there has been progress or otherwise. That is something we should caution against. We are storing up really serious problems for the future. We cannot fix these problems by throwing money at them. We will have to provide public services to undo the damage that has been done by not addressing this issue at this point. The solution is to build houses and to do so in the numbers needed. I agree with the point made by local authorities. I do not think the will is there. I question whether they want to be involved in the delivery of houses because it is incredibly slow, even in the context the numbers that have been promised.

I thank the Deputy. The Minister of State has five minutes in which to conclude the debate.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate. It is no harm to discuss this matter again. Our previous debate on this matter was in December. It is no harm to discuss it again because doing so can bring it into focus once more. We probably have conversations about different aspects of homelessness and housing in the Dáil every week. However, this debate has focused on homelessness among children and the difficulties they experience.

I assure Deputy Catherine Murphy that the Minister, the Taoiseach and I do not accept that there is any type of normality attaching to this issue. The Taoiseach is very focused on the housing brief and he works very closely with the Minister, the Department and me. We are all very focused on homelessness, the housing shortage and the housing emergency, especially among children, which is the Government's number one priority. Everyone accepts that bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels or emergency accommodation are not suitable settings in which to raise children. It is unfair to even suggest that what we are discussing has become normal or accepted. That is not the case. While we are trying to increase the supply of housing and deal with the shortage that exists, every effort is being made to provide the best services possible to people in emergency situations until we can find more long-term solutions. Many solutions have been offered and we try to deal with them while we are waiting for new housing to come on stream. However, it is not the case that homelessness has become acceptable or normalised. No one is accepting that, nor would we. Week in, week out we are here debating the matter and the committees never stop debating it. All parties are working away on this issue.

Deputy Fitzmaurice is correct that there is no magic wand or quick-fix solution that will solve the problem tomorrow. Deputy Catherine Murphy said that she wants a war effort. Nobody here has provided a silver bullet and said to the Minister, the Department or me that if we implement a particular solution today, the problem will be solved tomorrow. It does not work that way; we wish it did because we would do it. We are putting forward a range of solutions by means of the action plan. The latter, which was introduced almost two years ago, is updated all the time. We try new solutions every day of the week. The plan has been used to introduce many solutions and thousands of families have been helped. We all know and accept, including the Minister, that it is not enough but we are constantly trying to provide new solutions, ideas and options that will bring on the supply of housing. However, there is no quick fix. There is a skills shortage. There is also the issue of land and a range of other matters, but we have tried interventions in every sector to bring forward new supply and it is coming on stream. That will help us solve the housing shortage but we want to increase supply further. State-owned lands and private lands are all being brought forward but there are many different solutions.

There are data which show that new houses are being built, despite people here telling me constantly for years that there are no houses being built. We now know that some houses are being built. It is not enough for everybody but the CSO is counting them and has stated that in the context of housing supply - which is the solution to this problem - more than14,500 new houses were built last year. An additional 1,000 houses in ghost estates also came on stream and a further 2,600 that were vacant for more than two years were brought back into the system. Those are all houses that help provide solutions and homes. We know we are making the right progress but it is not enough. We want to do more but it is wrong to say that nothing is happening or that there has been no change. We would like it to happen more quickly and we are working with local authorities to facilitate that. Taxpayers' money has been allocated to solve this problem. More than €1.9 billion will be spent this year. An amount of €118 million will be specifically designated in respect of homelessness. This is an increase on last year's amount and its purpose is to try to focus on providing a better service to those in emergency accommodation, thousands of whom are children. We do not want them there and want to provide solutions as quickly as we can.

When the Minister or I thank the front-line people - the local authorities, approved housing bodies and those in our Department, other Departments and NGOs - and call them partners, that is because they are doing a lot of the work. Some use taxpayers' money and some do not, some ask for taxpayers' money and some do not and some offer to provide more services and use taxpayers' money to pay for them. We call them partners because we are all using taxpayers' money. It is important that taxpayers know that their money is being spent on the front line, that it is providing some of these solutions and that it helped more than 4,700 people leave homeless situations last year. It is not enough to deal with the entire problem or give all those involved homes but there is a bit of movement with people leaving emergency accommodation and getting houses. Thankfully, the majority do not spend as long in emergency accommodation as used to be the case. Some are in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation and hubs. Hubs are not perfect but they are much better than commercial hotels and are provided as a temporary solution only. The majority of people move through hubs quite quickly before moving to HAP houses, rented houses or more permanent situations.

The homelessness situation is not accepted as being normal and we are trying to work with everyone to bring forward solutions. It is about presentations and prevention. In many cases, we step in to prevent people becoming homeless which is a good use of taxpayers money to keep a person in their house. Some say that there are problems with HAP. Thousands avail of it and find it good, others do not but they are a minority. However, HAP is a temporary solution. The actual solution is housing supply and that is the Department's focus. This year, there will be an additional 8,000 social houses come into the system. They are not all brand-new builds - some of them will be acquired, leased and so on - but they will be in the system to help provide homes that were not there last year.

I will return to the issues raised by Deputy Fizmaurice on the skills agenda and so on. There is much that we can do and we are at different stages on different things but much sense has been talked. It is about housing supply and ensuring that our land is used, which is what we are trying to do. I wish that I had more time to continue but I do not.

I thank the Minister of State. That concludes our statements on child homelessness. The constant debates that we have had here on this subject indicates the total commitment of Members on all sides to find a solution. I remain to be convinced that the level of debate or priority that should be there at local authority level in order to help find a solution actually exists.