Homelessness is now at unprecedented levels, with numbers swollen by people who cannot afford to pay rent and have no place to sleep at night.
A night cafe initiative, introduced as an emergency measure in Dublin by the charity Merchants Quay Ireland, is being expanded in response to demands for help.
Underlining the unprecedented demand, Merchants Quay Ireland chief executive Tony Geoghegan said the numbers sleeping rough every night can be as high as 140.
He said a new Government action plan has to focus on the “new homeless”, people forced onto the street as they cannot pay rent.
Any plan should also include those who, after undergoing years of rehabilitation, end up back on the streets and in emergency accommodation because there are no reasonably priced living quarters available, he said.
By the end of last year, there were 3,464 adults and 1,490 children living in various types of emergency accommodation in the greater Dublin area alone — the highest number ever recorded.
Adults and children were forced to stay in hotels, hostels, and basic B&B provision across Ireland, said Mr Geoghegan, and up to 100 people were still sleeping rough every night.
As Merchant Quay Ireland today launches its annual review for 2015, Mr Geoghegan said the figures for this year so far are higher.
Many are the new “economic homeless” who may even be working but are unable to pay high rent, he said.
Mr Geoghegan said more than 7,500 people accessed the Merchant Quay Ireland night cafe which opened in January 2015.
“With so many people caught in homelessness, even more people rely on our daytime meals, support, and drop-in services,” he said.
“Last year, we saw 7,524 individuals in our homeless support services providing 98,865 meals.”
In the last year, Merchants Quay Ireland handed out 187,200 cups of tea and 38,480 sandwiches through its Riverbank open access service, and supplied 483 clean pairs of socks, underwear, and other clothing per month.
Mr Geoghegan said: “We stand at an important juncture now. We hope that the Government will hold to its commitments to prioritise the issues of homelessness and drugs, and will provide the leadership and resources needed to address these issues in a real and meaningful way.”
Last year, there were 27,388 visits to its drop-in services, a 4% rise year on year. It provided 25,745 needle-exchange interventions to 2,676 individuals, an increase of 6% on 2014. More than 400 were first-time presenters, said Mr Geoghegan.
Providing pathways out of drugs is a key aspect of the charity’s work, he said, adding that the residential detoxification and drug-free rehabilitation programmes are in strong demand.
“Despite unprecedented levels of homelessness and increased pressure on all our services, Merchants Quay Ireland has managed to reshape core frontline services to ensure we can meet increased demand while developing new, more specifically focused initiatives providing support and pathways out of homelessness and drugs,” said Mr Geoghegan.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved