Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Questions (14)

Gino Kenny


14. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the rise in the number of children and young persons experiencing homelessness in 2018; her further views on whether the 12.5% rise in the figure for homeless minors indicates that radical action needs to be taken to prevent the trauma and profound negative impact that homelessness has on young lives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22693/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Children)

I wish to ask the Minister about the crisis of continuing childhood homelessness and the impact it is having on the 4,000 children in emergency accommodation. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, what are her views on it?

I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for asking my view on the devastating crisis of homelessness among children and young people. The fact that, as of March 2019, there are 1,733 families experiencing homelessness in Ireland, and 3,821 children and young people is, quite frankly, heartbreaking. Although ultimate responsibility for addressing the homelessness crisis rests with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, my Department and Tusla are continuing to make every effort to alleviate the difficulties experienced by children and families who are homeless.

Homelessness is a traumatic experience which, as the Deputy suggests, can have a profound impact on young lives. There is no doubt that the effects of this crisis will be felt for many years to come. To mitigate the trauma as far as possible, I am using my Department’s powers and resources to the greatest possible extent in providing supports for children and families experiencing homelessness. I have ensured that free childcare is provided for the children of families experiencing homelessness, including a daily meal for each child. A total of 312 children have been registered under this scheme in the current programme year.

I have also succeeded in having young adults leaving State care included as a separate category for funding under the capital assistance scheme, CAS. That provides targeted assistance to the most vulnerable care leavers by enabling approved housing bodies to acquire residential units to accommodate them. I am pleased to report that as of last Friday, 24 care leavers have availed of places with various approved housing bodies, including 15 with Focus Ireland, six with the Peter McVerry Trust, and three with Don Bosco. Additional placements have been secured and are expected to come on stream within the coming months.

In addition, I have supported and resourced Tusla to support families who are homeless. I have secured an additional €1.5 million in 2019 to enable the further roll-out of family resource centres, which provide facilities to support families who are homeless in order that they can have a safe, warm environment for homework and relaxation and nutritious food.

I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity when it comes to this issue, but the facts speak for themselves and the fact is that since this Government has taken office in 2016, child homelessness has increased by 70%. That is more than 1,800 children in emergency accommodation. As the Minister stated, it has had a profound effect on each child and on their families, who are in a completely unnatural environment.

As an Independent Member, who is not affiliated to Fine Gael, has the Minister thought of withdrawing her support for the Government? It is obvious that the Government’s policy on housing and giving shelter to citizens of this country is profoundly wrong and is going nowhere. Child homelessness has risen exponentially in the past three years. Has the Minister considered her position in supporting the Government?

The question is not relevant to what we are looking at here but as an Independent member of the Government, I regularly review my participation with my Government partners. That is a fact. This is a significant issue. I have put forward a number of recommendations and suggestions, some of which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has taken on board, to increase security of tenure for those renting and to have more of a focus on affordable housing, in addition to increasing the amount of social housing. I have also put forward suggestions in respect of looking at models used in other countries. Recently, I have been investigating what is going on in Germany in terms of co-operative housing. By staying in, I am continuing to use my every effort and thought to support the overall actions that are needed to move us beyond where we are. In respect of the areas for which I have responsibility - it is not just my sincerity - what I have put in place has led to a number of actions and resources that are mitigating the harm for the children who experience homelessness in the context of their families.

The Minister has run out of superlatives when it comes to this crisis. It is obvious that the current housing policy of the Fine Gael Government is an abject failure and not only for the 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. The vast majority of people find that figure absolutely staggering. Somebody has to bear responsibility. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs must surely have had sleepless nights in the last three years in respect of the 4,000 homeless children. It is not her fault personally but it is the fault of the Government she upholds.

There are two more Deputies waiting. Does the Minister wish to respond?

I think I have already answered the question.