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'We can't go back to the way it was', says GP fighting to save homeless

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Dr Austin O’Carroll

Dr Austin O’Carroll

Dr Austin O’Carroll

The GP leading the Dublin Homeless Covid-19 Response team has said the emergency intervention is a success story.

Two weeks ago, the second floor of the Grangegorman Primary Care Centre in north Dublin was turned into the team's HQ.

The nine staff come from the HSE social inclusion unit, Dublin City Council (DCC) and homeless agencies.

The HSE predicted that if it did not intervene to protect homeless people from Covid-19, many would die.

DCC took advantage of the sudden collapse in tourism and began to rent empty Airbnb properties and hotels at more reasonable rates.

Dr Austin O'Carroll's team set up a points-based system to find the sickest and most at-risk homeless people.

Anyone aged between 40 and 50 gets one point, while those over 70 get four.

Someone who is HIV- positive gets two points, while anyone who is immunosuppressed gets four.

Within 10 days, the team had cocooned anyone who had three points or more, or two points with a particular risk, in their own accommodation.

SafetyNet, a charity for marginalised people, which Dr O'Carroll founded in 2005, began testing rough sleepers for Covid-19.

Halved

People diagnosed with the virus are given accommodation where they can stay in isolation.

The sudden extra accommodation helped ease overcrowding in private hostels, with Dr O'Carroll saying the number of rough sleepers has been halved.

The knock-on effect was almost instant. Homeless people who used to wait up to 12 weeks for addiction services are now being put on methadone within three days.

Both St James's Hospital and the Mater have told Dr O'Carroll that the number of homeless people coming to casualty has plummeted.

Dr O'Carroll said Covid-19 has, by accident, turned Dublin city into an experiment in housing.

"Now we know we can solve homelessness," he said. "When this is over, the worst thing that could happen would be that it goes back to the way it was."

The rate of infection among homeless people has been lower than expected, and so far not one has died of Covid-19.