herald

Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Homeless addicts left behind in scramble to help families', says drugs service

Tony Geoghean
Tony Geoghean

Homelessness is making the drug addiction crisis in Dublin worse, Merchant's Quay Ireland (MQI) has warned.

In its review for 2016, the rehabilitation service said that living on the street acts a barrier to getting treatment.

A total of 6,539 people used MQI homeless services last year.

More than 10,000 individuals with needs spanning addiction, mental health and homelessness approached MQI for help.

"The impact of the current unprecedented level of homelessness is most acutely felt at street level, where active drug users are being left behind as the Government scrambles to address the urgent needs of families," said MQI chief executive Tony Geoghegan.

"While we respect the need to prioritise families, and in particular children, we must not lose sight of the urgent needs of thousands of vulnerable single men and women, and in particular those with more complex needs, who are being pushed further down the housing queue."

Last year, 2,519 people used MQI's needle exchange service, 421 of whom were first-timers. In total, there were 25,603 needle exchange visits last year.

Mr Geoghegan added that the prospects of homeless drug users engaging in a successful treatment plan were "extremely remote".

"Against all odds, some people do successfully engage in and complete treatment," he said.

"However, their efforts are hugely undermined in the current housing crisis, where access to stable accommodation is almost impossible."

The 2016 review also revealed that MQI provided 117,398 meals for Ireland's homeless and hungry, an increase of 19pc from 2015.

Detoxification

Emergency shelter was provided in its night cafe for 2,022 people who would otherwise have slept on the streets.

Providing pathways out of drug addiction is a key aspect of MQI's work, and residential detoxification and drug-free rehabilitation programmes were in strong demand.

There were 186 admissions across these services last year.

Of the 114 people who completed rehabilitation programmes, 47pc were homeless.

The review showed the physical and psychological impact of being homeless is most clearly seen in the rising demand for primary healthcare services.

MQI provided 7,649 healthcare interventions last year, an increase of 73pc from 2015.

Mr Geoghegan added that the Government must invest in vital services to move people out of rough sleeping and emergency accommodation and into recovery programmes and stable accommodation.

"At the end of the day, society isn't just about money, it's about people and people's lives and ultimately addressing the drugs and homeless crisis is about saving lives," he said.

Some 8,160 people, including almost 3,000 children, are homeless, according to official figures.

The numbers exclude rough sleepers, with about 200 people thought to be on the streets of Dublin every night.

In a bid to ease the problem, the Dublin Simon Community is planning to build a 70-bed recovery centre for homeless drug addicts and alcoholics at Usher's Island.

However, an inner city primary school and local residents are lodging an appeal with An Bord Pleanala against Dublin City Council's decision to give the plan the go-ahead.

School principal Eilish Meagher argued that "the area is over-saturated with community facilities and in particular detox and rehabilitation centres".

A decision is due on the appeal in late December.

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