Children accounted for one in seven people who accessed homeless services in Ireland over the festive period.
Focus Ireland, the country’s biggest homeless charity, said the number of people turning to them increased by up to 20 per cent in 2010 and nearly 40 per cent over the past 24 months.
But the charity said it was particularly concerned that more youngsters than ever are requiring their help.
The charity’s founder, Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy, said many of those accessing services are the “new poor”, people who did well during the boom years, but have since lost their jobs and houses.
And she said the challenges the destitute face are even more serious now than they were in the 80s.
She said: “It’s more difficult now, because people were used to better times and it’s very difficult for them to adjust. More people are ending up poor and homeless. There’s a lot of poverty out there among people who didn’t experience it before, people who have lost their jobs and find they can no longer pay their mortgages. We are seeing people who a few years ago would have had cars and phones and a good lifestyle, but all this has been taken from them.
“There is enormous suffering because of the recession and we are all responsible for it, because everyone was spending more than they could afford during the Celtic Tiger.
“In Focus Ireland there was an increase last year of 18per cent of people using our services. This year there will be another 18 to 20 per cent increase to the numbers, so it’s a big problem.
“This Christmas one in seven people using homeless services will be children. That’s a shocking statistic.”
Sr. Stan also called on NAMA to open some of their estimated 8,000 unsold properties to cater for the tens of thousands of people on housing waiting lists.
She said: “During the boom there was a chance to develop social housing programmes. Thousands of homes were built by developers for no one in particular and now they’re in NAMA. In the meantime they did not develop social housing.
“Waiting lists went up from 20,000 to 100,000 now and we’ve made several submissions to NAMA. Many of the properties they have would be suitable and they should look at the needs of people on waiting lists and try and match them.”
Sr. Stan, 71, who has just published her memoirs, The Road Home, My Journey, also stressed her continued commitment to try and eradicate poverty and homelessness.
She added: “We can never do enough and must always strive to do more and more. We’ve an obligation to serve the poor and to try and change the system and speak out against injustices.”