Social justice campaigner Father Peter McVerry has claimed the “tsunami of homelessness” in Ireland is the worst he has ever seen.

He said that in his 40 years working with homeless people in Dublin, the housing shortage has never been as problematic as it is now. He said his Peter McVerry Trust for the homeless is being forced to turn people away for the first time due to a lack of spaces.

He claimed the problem is getting worse with official figures showing that six new people become homeless every day.

He told Miriam O’Callaghan on her RTE Sunday radio program, “We are, even I would say, beyond crisis at this stage.”

McVerry said with up to 35,000 home repossessions feared over the next few years, the rise in homelessness could bring down the government.

“There are also 40,000 buy-to-let mortgages in arrears. There is a dam at the end of the river, and this torrent of water is coming down; and there's no way out,” McVerry said.

The campaigner said the crux of the problem was that the traditional exits from homelessness – social housing and the private rental market – were no longer open to people.

 “There is a dearth of social housing,” he said. “In the cities and in Dublin in particular the private rental sector is out of reach for homeless people because the rents are escalating; they are going through the roof.”

McVerry appealed to the government to make 1,500 houses and apartments available to ease the crisis, adding that it would be far more cost-effective than putting people into hotels, hostels and shelters.

Barnardos, Ireland’s largest independent children’s charity, warned that many children are “back living in the tenements” because of the spiraling crisis in homelessness.

The charity said its workers are seeing families whose accommodation situation is putting their children at grave health and safety risks, with some even being forced to share accommodation with others who may be “entirely unsuitable” to be around children.

The minister with special responsibility for housing and planning, Jan O’Sullivan, told RTE that she cannot give a figure for how many people will become homeless this year.

She said that she would “need to be a clairvoyant” to know the number, but that her intention is to ensure that the number is less than the number that is presenting now.

She said that 25,000 home units per year are needed to tackle the issue, and that she will ensure there is a level of flexibility in the planning system so those units can be constructed.

“We can never go back to the crazy situation in the past. For the last three years we were constrained about what money the government could spend,” O’Sullivan said.