Last Friday, I visited the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People and met Brother Kevin Crowley and his team. Their work is truly heroic; it is the personification of true Christian values. Their simple objective is to relieve the hardship endured by homeless people. However, their work gives crucial insights into the failure of the various housing strategies and interventions to date to resolve the crisis. They are at the coalface and they see the daily realities of this failure in the context of the number of people turning up for breakfast, lunch and food parcels and, in particular, the extraordinary number of children in emergency accommodation who also attend the centre.
Their story at the coalface is one of a scandal that is becoming worse, especially for the children.
Some years back the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People was told that the emergency accommodation crisis for children would be solved. I will give the Taoiseach an insight. In 2013, there were 2,747 children attending for lunch. In 2016, there were 8,353 children. This is a 76% increase and a shocking indictment. They are extremely worried about the overall well-being of these children who are forced to attend the centre and the debilitating and damaging impact that emergency accommodation environment has on the children's development. It is heart-rending and the State is failing these children right now. Total presentations at the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People are close to 400,000 a year to avail of the various services. The costs are about €3.5 million. The State's contribution is €450,000, which is embarrassing relative to the scale of the crisis and the response of this centre to it. Ministers have visited the centre and the Taoiseach has visited the centre, and yet there was a social worker who retired in 2012 and that person has never been replaced. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has acknowledged the urgent need for a child welfare officer, particularly for child protection issues, but nothing has happened in this regard, and there have been a number of other demands and requests made.
The key point is that there is an enormous disconnect between the reality at the coalface, as evidenced by the daily work at the centre, and the official rhetoric about strategies and interventions. Housing policies are not impacting on this daily reality, which is getting worse. It is a fact that we are not building enough council houses. There is some ideological opposition across the system to that. It is appalling. Houses are not being built quickly enough and the emergency accommodation crisis is getting worse for children. This should be our overall priority.
I want the Taoiseach to recognise and acknowledge this reality and to work with the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People to attend to its immediate needs in recognising the reality of the emergency crisis for children and work to provide the officers the centre requires and the assistance the children require. This reality is not going anywhere soon. Will the Taoiseach acknowledge that the interventions to date have not made any dent on this appalling indictment of State policy?