My party colleague Deputy Barry Cowen has published a policy document on housing. One of the points we have made consistently in this House is the fact that we are falling way behind in regard to the number of housing units we need to build per year. We have raised the issue of homelessness on many occasions, and I submitted a Topical Issue matter on it last September. Dublin is always quoted as a very serious issue, but it is not the only part of the country which has serious housing problems. There are a range of proposals, some of which the Minister has referred to, from different sources to tackle these issues.
COPE in County Galway was one of the first organisations to propose an allocation of €500 million for the social housing building programme. It wanted a portion of the funding ring-fenced for homelessness, in particular for the Government proposal to eliminate long-term homelessness and the need to help people who are sleeping rough, and for this to be done by 2016. This week I read in local newspapers that while COPE welcomed the funding, it emphasised the short-term situation and the need to deal with the issue of people who need help immediately, not in two or three years’ time.
The death of Jonathan Corrie showed all of us the scale of the challenge we face. There have been social welfare cuts and rents have escalated, in particular in Dublin, which has led to people becoming homeless. I refer in particular to older people. The CEO of ALONE indicated that 25% of the calls to his organisation related to housing need for older people. It is a measure of the seriousness of the situation that more than 4,700 older people in this country are in need of housing. It is just one aspect of the issue.
I know from colleagues and people I have met that entire families are now living in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation and hostels in Dublin. I found it interesting that Brother Kevin Crowley, founder of the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people, talked about the urgent need for emergency accommodation in the city and the cessation of the night bus service. Will the Minister refer to that in his conclusion? The night bus service was very important, as Brother Crowley pointed out, and there was provision to include the ring-fencing of money for accommodation. I hope the very vulnerable people to whom he referred will not be pushed to the bottom of the housing list when it comes to dealing with the housing crisis.
The Simon Community has put together a ten-point plan. It referred to the long-term plan under the social housing strategy and the current homeless crisis, in particular the private rented sector and rent supplement. It is concerned about the strategy, which involves 75,000 households being provided for in the private rented sector, and about the capacity in the private rented sector to deliver on that. It made the point that prevention and early intervention services are important but are also very expensive. I appreciate that and I am sure the Minister knows that.
The situation regarding NAMA properties and the approved housing bodies is always used as an example of what we could do to increase the supply of housing. I suggested during the previous debate that every local authority should have a dedicated NAMA transfer unit. We were told two years ago that 2,000 housing units could be made available through NAMA for people on the social housing waiting lists, but this has not happened. In fact, large numbers of apartments have been sold by NAMA to developers.
In the case of approved public bodies, there is an issue in terms of trying to get finance through the capital assistance schemes to provide houses. The Simon Community is correct when it states that the private rental sector is imploding, rents are rising and the number of properties available is reducing. In a recent RTE television programme, “Through the Roof”, comments about it being a good time to be a landlord and a sad comment that single people would not even bother asking where they were on the housing lists were made. The issues of housing, mental health and drugs are not being linked by the Government.
The Minister referred to the Nite Café, which I welcome, but people like Father Peter McVerry have spoken about restorative practices to tackle the problems and to try to deal with situations where relations have broken down and people feel they had to leave home. I welcome the debate. We have a lot of issues to deal with and I hope we can make progress because we all know the seriousness of the situation. The problem is not just about Christmas. A long-term approach is needed.