Homelessness Incidence: Statements.

The Government is committed to addressing the problem of homelessness and, in this regard, published a formal integrated strategy last May to tackle homelessness. This strategy provides for an integrated response to homelessness by all the agencies involved, both statutory and voluntary.

The essence of the strategy is the preparation of action plans by local authorities at both city and county level which will detail how accommodation, health, settlement and welfare services will be provided to homeless persons by all the agencies involved in providing these services. In addition, a homeless forum is being set up in each county under the auspices of the local authority housing strategic policy committees. Local authorities, together with health boards and voluntary bodies, are preparing these plans and have been urged to complete them as a matter of urgency.

The plan for the Dublin area is practically finalised and should be completed and adopted shortly. Under the strategy, local authorities are responsible for the provision of accommodation for homeless persons and health boards are responsible for the care and welfare needs of homeless persons, including the provision of in-house care. It is the case, however, that many voluntary bodies provide accommodation and care for homeless persons and their work is invaluable in this area.

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

Housing output in the voluntary housing sector is being increased to a target of 4,000 units per year over the lifetime of the national development plan. It is expected that at least half of these units will be provided under the capital assistance scheme which is used extensively to provide special needs housing for certain groups, especially the homeless. In addition, the expanded local authority housing programme of 25,000 units over the four year period 2000-03 will also provide additional accommodation for homeless persons.

On the health side, the Government strategy provides funding of £6 million a year for the care and welfare needs of homeless persons. The distribution of this funding to health boards is a matter for the Minister for Health and Children. It will take some time to ensure that all the services outlined in the strategy are put in place. However, the Government is anxious to ensure that services for homeless persons are improved in the meantime. It is a matter of serious concern that even one person should be homeless and forced to sleep on the streets of Dublin or anywhere else in the country. As part of the action plans, additional facilities and accommodation will be provided for people who are forced to sleep rough.

However, as it will take some time for these to be put in place, the Department of the Environment and Local Government recently asked Dublin Corporation to develop urgently proposals to provide additional night-time service facilities which would provide people on the streets with basic shelter and food at night as an emergency interim measure. Dublin Corporation is anxious to provide these facilities and is seeking suitable premises and facilities.

Another area where there has been some improvement recently is emergency bed and breakfast accommodation. The Government's strategy calls for the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for anything other than short-term emergency accommodation of less than one month, particularly for families, to be phased out.

At the instigation of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Dublin Corporation, as a first step, has carried out inspections of all such accommodation in the past year and has entered into agreements with landlords whereby many of these facilities have been converted into shared living accommodation rather than simply bed and breakfast accommodation. The residents now have free access to come and go so that they do not have to vacate their accommodation during the day, and there is 24 hour management and security. While this is a move in the right direction in that it resolves some of the acute difficulties, there is still a long way to go. This will take some time as alternative sources of accommodation will need to be found. In the meantime, local authorities will need to continue to use bed and breakfast accommo dation to accommodate homeless persons on an emergency basis, but the use of it will decrease as alternative accommodation becomes available.

A key element of the Government's strategy is the provision of additional accommodation and a greater variety of it to cater for the varying needs of homeless persons, including homeless families. In particular, additional transitional and move-on accommodation will be provided to enable people to move out of emergency accommodation, whether bed and breakfast accommodation or hostels, into accommodation that is more suitable to their needs.

We will see real improvements in the provision of accommodation and support services for homeless people. The Government has set out a clear framework and there is a genuine willingness to tackle homelessness. Local communities have a key role to play in supporting measures to be taken at local level to assist homeless persons and I hope the spirit of willingness to see the matter properly addressed carries through when it comes to providing services at local level. The Government has put a clear strategy in place to address homelessness in a comprehensive way and it is supported by the necessary funding and resources.

The statement by the Minister of State is excellent. However, there is a great deal of hope in it and not a great deal of factual detail as to when these services will be provided. Having listened to his speech, there was not one tangible provision. It was all "hopefully", "when", "if" and "in conjunction with".

I remind the House that we are regressing. It is three years since I spoke about people sleeping rough in Molesworth Street, probably because they were highly visible, and the problem has spiralled downwards at an alarming rate. It is so bad now that the local authority housing waiting list in South Dublin County Council has 4,951 applicants and that is just one local authority area of four in the greater Dublin area. Kildare has had a 98% increase in applications with 2,229 on its housing list. I accept to a certain extent that we have been overtaken by an amazing increase in the number of homeless people, but that sudden increase is not a sufficient excuse for not having emergency measures in place at least.

A possible emergency measure which could be taken here is taken in Helsinki, Finland, where homeless people are collected every night from the nooks, crannies, doorways, footpaths and shelters where they sleep and are brought to a central area where there are beds and food. I appreciate there will always be the odd nomad who does not fit into the normal pattern, but the young people on the streets in Dublin at present are by no means in that category.

As a member of a local authority, I know for a fact that many young families spend up to six and seven months, not in bed and breakfast accommodation, but in hostels. I know of a young mother who used to live in Clondalkin and is unable to send her children to school. Her current place of abode is a hostel on the North Circular Road. To get there by 9 a.m. she is required to take two buses.

While the intention is that local authorities will provide emergency accommodation, the allocation for which has been increased by 100%, there has been no movement. The strategic policy committee on housing in the local authority of which I am a member is not at work because of a staff dispute. I can see no value, therefore, in informing us that there will be a service when it is patently obvious that the preparations have not reached an advanced stage.

I appreciate that it is, probably, due to my esteemed colleague's anxiousness, but I cannot speak unless someone is listening to me. Whether the Minister of State heeds me is another matter.

The time has come to establish an emergency centre in every local authority area, but particularly in the greater Dublin area. Strange as it may seem, constituents of mine do not know where Great Charles Street is, the only centre where what is laughingly called emergency accommodation is provided by the health board. It cannot be described as emergency accommodation when one has to live there for nine months.

It is unbelievable that we still have what are called winter hostels. There appears to be a presumption that from the end of April to the beginning of November there are six months of glorious sunshine and no need to provide shelter. That is both laughable and scandalous.

Why should people living beyond Blanchardstown and in west Tallaght, near Wicklow, be sent to accommodation within the functional area of Dublin Corporation? Why is the available funding for housing the homeless being concentrated in one local authority area? Why are people on the waiting list who cannot afford to either rent or buy being carted around the city to geographical areas of which they have no knowledge and from where they will find it exceedingly difficult to keep in touch with their families? It would be more realistic to provide emergency accommodation locally. This can only be done by first acknowledging that there is an emergency and by allocating funds to local authorities to build. This should be done immediately. It is laughable that in Christmas week in the year 2000 – it can only be described as Dickensian – that there are people huddled in corners. All we are waiting for is Ebeneezer Scrooge to emerge and for some snow to fall to complete the picture. While it may look nice on a postcard, the reality must be absolutely horrific.

The Minister of State did not mention the lack of rented accommodation, one of the main reasons people are homeless. The cost of rented accommodation has jumped by 176% since 1995, which is way out of the range of most ordinary applicants on the housing list. While I am always reluctant to mention rent control, could we not have a situation – the Minister of State alluded to this at one level – where private landowners would enter into a contract with local authorities in the greater Dublin area and those other parts of the country where problems are being experienced to provide accommodation, the cost of which would not increase and out of which people would not be turfed? We all know of people who have been given one month's notice and literally have nowhere to go.

While one can applaud the economic growth and the achievements of the Government, the major stain on its record will be the lack of care for those who, for varied and multiple reasons, are unable to provide for what is the basic need of all human beings, namely, shelter. I often wonder why the newspapers do not emphasise more how inappropriate a booming economy is to someone living in a cardboard box. The figures are staggering. If one multiplies my figure of 5,000 in the greater Dublin area by four, one is talking about a figure of 20,000 in need of accommodation. The rot set in when the emergence of the problem was ignored.

It was announced in May that health boards would work in conjunction with the local authorities. I am a member of both a health board and a local authority and there has been no movement. While many promises have been made, there has been nothing concrete. I ask the Minister of State to consider taking people off the street for Christmas – an unusual thing for which to ask – by providing emergency accommodation, which this country has been able to provide at different times for various groups. For example, a section of Cherry Orchard Hospital was made available for Bosnian refugees. Emergency housing was also provided in a disused Army barracks on the South Circular Road. It, certainly, did the trick. I am certain that there are many buildings which could be used. It is a shameful blot on the history of the Government that even one person should be on the street, winter or summer. I await the Minister of State's response with great interest.

As the person responsible, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. I also welcome the Minister of State who is always willing to help in solving various problems.

Senator Ridge said that she is a member of a local authority. Has she tabled any resolutions condemning the cause of homelessness – alcohol abuse? While thousands of Irish people have done very well in England, a small number have done badly and are now homeless because of alcohol abuse. Alcohol is the most dangerous and potent drug in the world. If it was to come on the market today, it would, as an eminent doctor in Dublin said – I cannot recall his name – only be available on prescription.

An extra £6 million a year is to be spent on initiatives to tackle the problem of homelessness. Many organisations are involved, including the various corporations and county councils, health boards, CORI, the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Combat Poverty Agency. What do their administration costs amount to? Yet, the problem of homelessness is getting worse. None of the organisations mentioned has the courage to say to the drinks industry that it is responsible for the problem. Drinks companies have youth officers in our colleges selling drink. On "Prime Time" the other night a college professor said that there were four notices on the notice board from different drinks companies advertising free booze in different parts of the college in question. Is that the way they should be behaving? They are criminals, no better than those selling illicit drugs. There is no difference. They are selling potent drugs to young people.

I am a little disappointed with my organisation, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. It is not popular to say what is causing this problem and the organisations are running away from doing it because that is popular. I call today for the abolition of alcohol advertising. It was shown on "Prime Time" that consumption of alcohol in one country dropped by one third when it prohibited advertising of alcohol. That is a significant amount.

Let us get to grips with homelessness and stop throwing more money at it. The sum has gone from £20 million to £40 million. I congratulate the voluntary organisations. They are doing a wonderful job. How much money are they putting into this problem? They are putting in more money than would house the homeless. However, we cannot house them or solve the problem until the root cause is solved and people are strong enough to say what is the root cause. I call on the organisations, instead of looking for more money, to initiate a grassroots campaign to highlight what alcohol abuse is doing to this country and its children.

People frowned on me when I spoke about a brilliant young man who lost his life after hotels gave him so much drink he got drunk and was unable to get home. He fell and lost his life. Hotels should be prosecuted for giving somebody that many drugs, which is what they gave him. There have been several murders in the past 12 months. There are people in Mountjoy for stabbing their spouses and other people because they were high on drugs and drink.

Alcohol is the main source of the majority of our problems with homelessness, trouble on the streets, fighting and carousing. Consider that 40% of the people attending accident and emergency units at weekends are drunks. They are young people. In my youth it was old men who were drunks. It was pathetic to watch the television programme showing young girls being picked up off the streets, put on trolleys and into ambulances to be brought to hospital. These young people should be out enjoying themselves.

When I went to dances in this city as a young man – one venue was the Top Hat in Dún Laoghaire – people who had drink on them were not allowed into the dancehall. I also danced in the National Ballroom beside Barry's Hotel. If anybody had a sign of drink on them, they were not allowed in. The same applied to all dancehalls throughout the country. They were always packed and there were no rows or fighting. Those dancehalls did good business.

What ruined Ireland was the arrival of lounge bars and supermarket off-licences. The young men interviewed on the programme spoke about getting a few dozen cans from the off-licence and drinking them before they went out. They do not drink for entertainment but to get sloshed – that is the trendy phrase for getting drunk and falling around.

A total of £40 million is being spent on homelessness but the problem is getting worse. It will get more terrible unless there is an uprising in the country, that rises from the grassroots, to campaign against alcohol abuse. It is our main problem. I call on the Minister to introduce rules to prohibit drinks companies from sending youth officers into colleges to sell drink. Students are walking the streets claiming they do not have enough money. On their own admission on "Prime Time" they are spending between £80 and £90 per week on alcohol. Imagine spending that amount of money on drink. That is what the drinks companies are after.

We must be serious about tackling homelessness. I do not wish to see anybody homeless but I make a special plea for one man. Some of the homeless are great people. I have seen people who are brainy and great business people caught in the alcohol trap. When they went to the AA and gave up drink, they rose from the ashes and got their businesses back. They were bigger and better than ever. They went into the gutter but re-emerged. The trouble with alcohol is that one must hit the gutter and lie in it, like the late Matt Talbot, before one sees the light or before AA or anybody else can help. By then, one is too far gone. It is sad to see the calibre of the people who are living on the street. They are brilliant people and should not be there. They are there, however, because they are drugged by a legal drug.

A bus driver's life was saved by a man who lives on the streets. I congratulate that person and I am disappointed CIE, the health boards, county councils, the Government or any voluntary organisation did not approach that man to make sure he was not homeless for Christmas. He saved a life and I am delighted he was presented with a medal and a watch for his bravery, but he should have been given a home. I do not know him but on the television he appeared to be a fine, hardy young man. He waded into the water and saved a man's life by pulling him from the driving seat when it was filled with water. That man should be looked after. Perhaps the Minister will contact the social workers and ensure he gets a home for his bravery. He should have a home at least for Christmas.

Mark my words, a number of people who are today hearty and healthy will have interviews with St. Peter before Christmas is over, and the 12 days of Christmas are not far away. What will be responsible for that? Alcohol abuse. There is a great campaign against smoking, and rightly so. Smoking is bad. However, a person never broke up a family, beat up his wife, broke up his home or went bankrupt as a result of smoking. Why is there such benevolence to, and why do we see so much good in, the curse of alcohol even though we see it ruining our youth and the old people of this country? It is very sad.

I congratulate the people of Mayo who are bringing home our emigrants in London. These emigrants left in the 1950s and 1960s and some of them only returned once or twice. They had great jobs and made big money. What did they do? They made millionaires of others. People often compliment me on driving a nice car. I have always driven a good car. I tell them, "You would have a nice car but you cannot pay for two nice cars." When they ask me what I mean I tell them that if they want to buy a nice car for the publican, they cannot have a nice car for themselves as well.

Too many of our youth and our homeless are making many people wealthy, even millionaires, while they are down and out in the gutter. An old friend of mine used go on the beer after being off it for years. He would regularly say, "The publicans are nice people who are warm and welcoming when you arrive in the pub after being on the dry for 12 months or so and have plenty of notes in your pocket, but after three months, when you are broke and going through the waistcoat pockets for the price of a pint, they can be damned nasty and insulting." The same holds true today. While people have money they are welcome but they are not wanted when they have no money.

I congratulate RTE. It is the first organisation to highlight the dark side of the drink problem in this country. It highlighted the homeless and what is happening to them. The Minister can throw another £40 million and the same amount again at this problem, but we must deal with the cause of it.

It annoys me to hear people calling for a debate on the quality of tap water. As far as I know, tap water never killed anyone. Senators call for debates on mobile phones and ESB pylons, although there is no proof that their effects have killed anyone. However, nobody talks about road accidents, stabbings and domestic problems. Sports people want to be fit but they celebrate by filling the cup with whiskey. We celebrate everything by drinking alcohol. I am amazed at the popularity of alcohol and I do not understand why so many people keep drinking it.

I appeal to the pioneers to forget about being popular and running with the crowd. I never drank alcohol because I recognised the dangers of drink at an early age but I enjoyed life and danced and enjoyed entertainment as much as anyone else. As a 12 year old during the war, I went into the brewery in Sligo every Saturday with a jennet and cart to carry out beer for the local pub. I could have had all the beer I wanted to drink for nothing but because our house was up the road from the pub and I saw drunk people fighting on their way home from the market every Saturday, I vowed I would never get into the same state. Thank God and his blessed mother I was able to honour that.

It has been mentioned that car insurance companies will offer reductions to pioneers and teetotallers. I welcome that move which I advocated on many occasions to insurance industry representatives who attended meetings of the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business. People who do not drink alcohol should be rewarded and should receive at the very least a 25% reduction in their insurance premia. That would encourage more young people not to drink.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I remind the Senator that while there is no time limit on contributions, the debate is due to conclude at one o'clock and other Senators are offering.

I thank the Minister for coming into the House and applaud him for the work he and the Government have done. I appeal to the Government to recognise that alcohol is the simple cause of homelessness and to consider ways of addressing the matter. Alcohol is the most potent drug in the world. If people get hooked on it, it is no better than illicit drugs. I ask the Minister to appeal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to introduce legislation prohibiting the advertising and glamorising of alcohol.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Senator Farrell is quite right to express his strongly held views on alcohol abuse but it breaks my heart to hear him denigrating those organisations which deal with homelessness by saying they should face up to the hard fact that 80% of homelessness is due to alcohol abuse. I encounter homeless people every night as I walk up Baggot Street. The Senator obviously did not read the surveys on homelessness published by the Department of Health and Children, the ERHA, Focus Ireland, Combat Ireland and the Simon Community. He is stereotyping homeless people as winos, but I assure him that many of them are not and it is most unfair of him to denigrate them in this way.

Hear, hear.

I said homelessness in most cases results from alcohol abuse.

The Senator said 80% and the surveys prove that is not the case. I am furious that he should come into the House without having researched the matter properly. The Minister will be aware that psychiatric illness is one of the most serious causes of homelessness. Between 30% and 40% of homeless people suffer from psychiatric illness. Some 15 years ago, a policy was introduced to bring people out of psychiatric institutions into the community. The Senator may nod his head but he did not mention this fact.

I had intended to refer to mental illness but time constraints prevented me from doing so.

It was not high on the Senator's list. These people were supposed to receive care in the community but that is not happening. Without any specific training, the Simon Community, Sr. Stan in Focus Ireland and others are trying to help these people who need, but are not receiving, psychiatric help.

While I understand the Senator's concern about alcohol abuse and agree that the recent RTE programme was terrifying, we cannot paint sick people as drunks lying on the street when they are not drunks and are homeless because of our failures. A very high number of homeless people are psychiatrically ill. The Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt, will be aware of this because he will have read the reports. We are trying to appoint consultants to see how we can deal with homeless people with psychiatric illness. Once these people are on the streets, they do not take their medication and are not in touch with social workers.

We – and I am part of the system – created a further problem through the introduction of sectorisation in the psychiatric services. If as I walk up Baggot Street I meet someone who is obviously seriously psychiatrically ill, I cannot get them into a hospital in the city if they are from Blanchardstown or some other area of Dublin. They must go to their local hospitals. This is a serious problem which must be addressed.

I walk to work along the canal where I see nests of people, many of whom are psychiatrically ill, sleeping under pink blankets and cardboard. During the day, they transfer themselves to a position outside the TSB at the corner of Baggot Street. I implore the Minister to give priority to the problem of homeless people with psychiatric illness. In the past, there were wards in St. Brendan's, where I completed part of my training, for people with no fixed abode.

If people are not on the streets, they are in prison. Surveys reveal that almost 30% of prisoners are described as psychiatrically ill, with 10% being described as seriously psychiatrically ill. These are scientific surveys. People commit minor offences when they are out on the streets but, rather than putting them into a hospital, they are sent to prison. The Minister is well aware of the concerns about prison psychiatric services. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform was in the House recently and agreed with me that this was a serious issue and that psychiatrically ill people were ending up in prison, having committed minor offences.

This is an international problem. People were supposed to be cared for in the community on coming out of psychiatric hospitals but nobody realised how expensive and difficult it would be to achieve that. It is the health service which should deal with these patients, not these organisations which are not in a position to deal with them. The hostels which were spoken of in the budget cannot be built too soon as it is very hard to deal with people such as this in an ordinary hostel setting as they are ill, are difficult to deal with and are not taking their medication. I quite understand the trouble they must be. Also, people who get out of prison have absolutely nowhere to go.

I am sorry for getting so cross about this matter, but it breaks my heart to see ill people denigrated as drunks and, worse still, those trying to deal with them described as fools. They are not fools – Sr. Stan is unbelievable as are those who run the Simon Community, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the organisations which are working terribly hard and doing very well. Of course, drink is a serious problem. Between 20% and 30% of homeless people are on either drink or drugs or both and I trip over them as I go home. However, most people are homeless because of a life crisis such as losing a job – as Senator Ridge said, rented accommodation is extraordinarily expensive – the breakdown of marriage or involvement in a court case.

Nobody really knows the number of women who are sleeping rough as they have to make themselves far less obvious. However, there are many homeless women. The Minister of State, Deputy Hanafin, and I have frequently spoken about the problem of children. She said she becomes quite cross when they are described not as being homeless but out of home, as if there was somewhere they could go if they were so minded. We must ask why such children have left home. We see all sorts of unfortunate cases of abuse and neglect coming before the courts, which must be a significant factor.

Could the Government try to continue the community employment schemes with groups such as the Simon Community, Focus Point, the Combat Poverty Agency and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul? Frequently those employed are from the community and are very good at getting back to the community. The National Training Fund Bill has been passed by the House and FÁS has brought people from a very low ebb to being in full employment. It is only through this gradual help to improve people that we can do something about the problem.

We must try to get homeless people into some sort of home. We have many young people on the streets. I spoke to one young person near Baggot Street Hospital who was sitting on the ground on blankets. When I asked him what he was doing on the street he said he had a fight with his father and that his mother was on holiday until the end of the month. How long would he be on the streets before he was in real trouble? We urgently need short-term emergency accommodation and try to ensure young and old, children and women are not put in the same accommodation. For example, that young boy about whom I spoke should not be put in accommodation with the winos about whom Senator Farrell spoke; to do so would not be to his betterment.

I apologise to Senator Farrell for getting so cross, but I know very sad cases and the surveys back up what I say.

Senator Costello has raised this matter many times on the Order of Business and has shown a deep concern for the homeless. I also compliment Senator Farrell who asked for the debate and who has spoken in a sincere way, as has Senator Ridge. Some days ago on the Order of Business I raised homelessness in Ireland and the high incidence of homelessness among the Irish in Britain. In London it is estimated that up to 40% of those who are homeless are of Irish extraction.

I was very impressed by the Minister's contribution for two reasons. First, there was an underlying humanity in what he said and he clearly made the point that it was not acceptable to have even one homeless person. At the same time he outlined a long-term strategy and interim measures which are particularly important.

This matter should be entirely removed from the political arena as it is too important and serious. We all feel very deeply about it. There is nothing more traumatic than to walk along a street and see a person sleeping rough, with those going home from parties stepping over them. We should remember that in the past if a person saw someone lying in the street for whatever reason, be it health or drink, they would stop, lift them up and help them. That was the culture and philosophy in Ireland years ago. This has changed and the reasons for the change must be examined as no matter what is done by Government or local authorities, the problem will not be solved unless the reasons for homelessness are identified and community attitudes are changed.

In fairness, I think Senator Henry misrepresented what was said by Senator Farrell. He was not pointing a finger at the helpless person but at society which accepts the abuse of alcohol and at those who advertise alcohol to the point of abuse. It is important that this be put on the record.

Unless we do something about the exceptionally serious and growing problem we will always regard it as a blight on our success and on our nation. On reviewing the unusually good budget this year, which spread the wealth and helped the less fortunate, it struck me that such measures are diminished when we think of those who are suffering as a result of homelessness. We should examine the reasons for homelessness, one of which is alcohol. The psychiatric issues raised by Senator Henry are also definitely relevant. Another issue is the breakdown in the cohesive ness of family life. In the past there was a cohesion in families whereby people looked out for each other, and not just in the immediate family.

If one looks at the changing attitudes in America over the past 20 years one will see a huge peer pressure on young people to leave the family home before they are even capable of looking after themselves. I am not taking from the economic reasons or social pressures, but the forcing of young people through peer pressure to leave the family home is an important factor. They feel they are independent and can look after themselves, but they are very vulnerable at that age and when a problem comes their way they are unable to deal with it and are too independent to return to their family. Families should endeavour to look out for such problems as it is a basic factor.

Another reason is if people have no purpose in life, and there are many such people. Recently both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been making a point about the quality of life. We could all make that point. A wage packet does not guarantee security, contentment, happiness, concern for others. The wheel has come full circle. We are realising what we have lost – our spirituality. When religious communities looked after the homeless we had little difficulty. We have seen what happened to the Mercy order. I am not saying there were not exceptional cases. However, the whole order is tarred with the same brush, as are the Christian Brothers and the clergy, yet 99.9% of them took over responsibilities we should have had. They are not here today and the problems are being thrown out on the streets where they were never thrown before. Natural community spirit is disappearing because the city is growing at such a fast rate. The sense of community is disappearing in smaller towns also. There are few community and voluntary bodies or religious groups, no sense of understanding within society that affluence sometimes brings isolation from other people.

All of those issues need to be looked when making policy. That is why I said there was humanity in what the Minister said today. We need partnership and a return to the ideals we had in the past. We welcome affluence, but we must recognise that if we do not tackle the source of the problem of homelessness, everything else we do will be but a cosmetic exercise and the problems will grow. We should bear in mind also that the person lying on the street is totally helpless, having reached that stage, and not every section of officialdom will reach him or her. Individual concern definitely will.

I do not want to take up any more time because I want to allow Senator Costello to enter the debate as he has spoken on this subject many times. I make a final appeal to take this issue out of the political arena. Officialdom and money will not solve the problem if we do not recognise that we are losing important values. We must recognise that tackling this problem requires partner ship. I compliment the voluntary bodies, the Simon Community and others who, over the years, fulfilled a role that we were either unable or unprepared to fill.

I thank Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú for giving me some of his time. I can hardly improve on what he said.

This is about quality of life, social cohesion, community values, the standards of latter days. It is about a new society, the tiger economy which seems to have little respect for the person, the family, the community, and seems to breed individualism, self interest, greed and lack of caring in a community. We are at a threshold, and there is more affluence in our society than kindness and caring.

It is terrible to see the statistics day after day, the information from the Simon Community today about the doubling of the number of people sleeping rough in the past three years and, in today's newspapers, the information that an inner city day centre notes the numbers availing of the service it provides to homeless people have doubled in the past 12 months. The statistics are certainly very stark. According to the ESRI report, 4,000 people are known to be homeless in the city of Dublin alone, and there are probably many more because it is very difficult to do a count of the homeless. In excess of 1,200 of those are young people and approximately 100 young people are sleeping rough every night. The number of people sleeping rough in Dublin is two thirds of the number sleeping rough in London, a city with a population ten times the size of Dublin, and approximately 40% of the homeless in London are Irish-born, as Senator Ó Murchú said. The situation is dire.

The obvious question is what to do about it. Many of the homeless people who come to me in my clinics looking for accommodation have been evicted. They have been told to quit or have been evicted by landlords who do not want a particular type of clientele. Such people are the most vulnerable of all. Landlords do not want anybody who is a drug addict, who has an alcohol problem, who is a single parent, and they do not want families. They want single people who are employed, who have a good income, who will give them no trouble and who will be able to pay the current exorbitant rents. The problem is equally bad in shelters and hostels which have a policy of not allowing in anybody who might have a drug abuse or alcohol problem. It is these people, who are particularly ill and vulnerable, who are sleeping rough. That is a major issue we must face.

As Senator Ó Murchú said, the religious orders are now depleted and the service that was provided by them has been reduced enormously. A very worrying aspect is the number of teenagers who, for one reason or another – rows and difficulties in the home – are out on the street fending for themselves. Drugs are a major aspect and this ties in with a survey carried out in the north inner city last week which showed that of 100 teenagers interviewed, 40% were abusing illegal drugs, 80% were abusing alcohol, and all were well under the age of 18. The problems have been brought about partly by affluence and partly as a result of changes in society and the breakdown of social ties.

Accommodation is the major key to what can be done. I am not satisfied with an extra £20 million in capital funding over a five-year period. That is not nearly good enough. That is a national figure of between £4 million and £5 million per annum and it will not deal with the crisis we are facing. We need to establish a task force on homelessness. We need to give to a single body the authority to deal with the issue. We should no longer have both health boards and local authorities involved, but one or the other. The local authority, as the housing authority, should deal with homelessness. However, there should be a separate area in the local authority that would deal exclusively with the matter as part of a task force on homelessness.

We must also introduce new landlord and tenant legislation because the incredible situation here is that somebody must be in situ for 20 years before they acquire any rights as a tenant, no matter how good a tenant they are. The result is that landlords, seeing neighbouring landlords doubling their income, often serve their tenants with notice to quit, even if they are good tenants, because the tenants cannot meet the demand for an increase in the rent. This is particularly true of the elderly. An increasing number of elderly people, single people, couples and families are being forced out of what was reasonable rented accommodation because prices have gone through the roof. It is these people who are now on the local authority housing list, and that is the cause of the crisis whereby it will be two or three years before anybody on Dublin Corporation's homeless list can expect any accommodation. That is true of families as well as elderly people, and young people do not have a hope of getting accommodation. A single young man or woman will not be housed by any of the State services because the demand from single parents and couples with families is so great.

At Christmas time it is important that we register our concern and I echo the last point made by Senator Ó Murchú that we should not play politics with this issue. As the Minister said, if only one person was homeless, we should be concerned about it. We must urgently put together a decent response that would provide the funding and the mechanism to deal with the problem of homelessness.

We could have gone home today without having talked about the problem of homelessness. If I have stirred up opinions and got people talking, and if I have annoyed some people, I have done a good job coming up to Christmas. We got people talking about the serious issue of people living on the streets. Today we have shown that we are serious about addressing the causes of homelessness. I thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject, and I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Your comments are always well intentioned, Senator. When is it proposed to sit again?

I want to record my sincere thanks to the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Clerk and Assistant Clerk of the Seanad, the staff, the media, the ushers and the Senators on both sides of the House. It has been an historic year and I wish everyone a very happy Christmas. The House will adjourn sine die.