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'Lockdown has put new rough sleepers out on street', warns homeless volunteer

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Inner City Helping Homeless volunteers help a rough sleeper in Dublin city centre (Niall Carson/PA)

Inner City Helping Homeless volunteers help a rough sleeper in Dublin city centre (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

Inner City Helping Homeless volunteers help a rough sleeper in Dublin city centre (Niall Carson/PA)

New people are sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin as the coronavirus lockdown hits, an aid worker has warned.

They are sheltering in hedges, shop doorways, between the columns of court buildings and underneath bins, volunteer Padraig Drummond said.

The Inner City Helping Homeless organisation is giving out hot drinks, sweets, crisps and toiletries to them, Mr Drummond added.

The charity has suggested that a fifth of the people it helps have contracted the virus.

The infection has proved challenging for homeless people, with shelters having to manage social distancing.

"We reached an average of around 50 people tonight," Mr Drummond said, adding that their only shelters were sleeping bags.

"That is regular. It is night on night this is happening, for the duration of the lockdown."

The volunteers wear protective equipment in a bid to shield themselves as they hand out hot drinks from a van.

Extra personal protective equipment has recently been donated to the organisation, which also helps to clean people's tents.

Mr Drummond said volunteers were also giving out sanitation products.

"We have from age 18 up to 70 living on the streets at the moment," he said.

"There are some long-terms and there are others we came across, a few new people on the streets and I have never seen them before."

Lowest

Some homeless charities have challenged official figures suggesting the number of rough sleepers in Ireland's capital is down to its lowest level for decades.

The Dublin Outreach team is on the streets from 7am to 1am, working in partnership with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) to find accommodation for people who are rough sleeping during Covid-19, the Dublin Simon Community said.

"Face-to-face contact is being prioritised for these people as we work to secure rolling beds in appropriate accommodation where they will be safe and supported throughout this crisis," it said in a statement.

"The soup-run service is now being provided each night by the Dublin Outreach team to reduce risk for clients and volunteers."

The Dublin Simon Community is working closely with Safetynet, which is leading the Covid-19 testing of individuals across all homeless services.

"In the event that a person on the street began to display symptoms, the Dublin Outreach team would contact Safetynet and lead the patient to a self-isolation unit as directed," it added.

Medical

"The Dublin Simon Community Step-Up Step-Down unit, which we run in conjunction with Safetynet, has increased its bed count during Covid-19 to provide medical support to 20 more homeless patients.

"The expansion of the unit will also mean that 36 beds are available in acute hospitals for those in need because of Covid-19.

"Our management team are meeting remotely each day and are in regular contact with the HSE, DRHE, Department of Housing, Safetynet and other agencies."

The HSE and DRHE have been contacted for comment.