The “greatest risk” facing Ireland is accepting high levels of homelessness and addiction “as normality”, according to a leading charity. Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) experienced a surge in demand across its services last year, with record numbers seeking emergency shelter in its night cafe in Dublin.
The charity is seeing a wider group of people becoming homeless, with more young people — particularly care leavers — and more older people. Its annual review for 2018 shows a 20% increase in those aged 18 to 25 attending its Young Person Support Workers service, rising from 172 in 2017 to 207 in 2018.
In addition, it has seen a 7% increase in people accessing its healthcare services, with numbers availing of the drug harm reduction service up 6%. In 2018, there were over 30,000 visits to its needle exchange service in Dublin, which is a rise of 31% over the last five years.
“The greatest risk now facing Ireland is an acceptance of preventable tragedy as a normality,” said MQI chief Paula Byrne.
She said the high rates of homelessness and addiction can be addressed if the “leadership and courage” was there from the State, with support from society.
“It will require a much greater sense of urgency and radical thinking regarding homelessness,” she said. “And it will incorporate a view of drug use which is based, in the first instance, on health and human need and not judgment and criminal sanction.”
She pointed out that Health Research Board figures showed that 736 lives were lost due to drug-related deaths in 2016, the fourth highest rate in Europe. She said figures for people in emergency accommodation across the State approached the “shocking 10,000” mark in 2018.
The report shows a 6% rise in numbers attending its drug service in Dublin, including a 12% increase in new clients.
Heroin continued to be the main drug being used (73% of clients). It said a matter of concern was a rise in crack cocaine users (5% of clients). Some 6% of people reported using steroids. In the Midlands, 47% of clients were using heroin, with alcohol accounting for 11%.
Commenting on the almost 2,150 inmates it provided drug counselling to in prisons, it said of “particular concern” was a drop in residential admissions from prison to treatment services on the outside, from 83 in 2017 to 53 in 2018. It said this reflected the increasing difficulty of accessing treatment beds across the country.