The homelessness crisis has reached “unprecedented” levels and will only worsen as the winter approaches, the largest homelessness and drug agency in the country has warned.
Merchants Quay Ireland said the “harsh reality” was reflected in a 19% increase last year in healthcare interventions, a 28% jump in GP visits, and the provision of 1,500 meals every week.
The agency has called on the Government to increase the level of emergency accommodation and to use the likes of McKee Barracks as a reception centre for the 1,000 children forced to live with their parents in B&Bs.
“We are currently facing unprecedented levels of homelessness that are further exacerbated by, and contributing to, problem drug use,” said MQI chief executive Tony Geoghegan.
“As a matter of urgency I call on the Government to hold fast to their commitments to a just society and, as a matter or urgency, to put in place the necessary resources to make a real difference in the lives of people caught in the misery of drugs and homelessness.”
He said that last year there were a number of deaths, including that of Jonathan Corrie yards from Leinster House in December, which resulted in the Government creating some 271 more emergency beds.
“Those 271 beds are all full,” said Mr Geoghegan. “They are now part of the mainstream system and still we have more than 100 people sleeping rough.”
He said MQI opened their night cafe last January and that was also full.
“We are coming into the winter months. People are sleeping in tents in Phoenix Park and don’t get included in the homeless counts. I would be concerned for the winter.”
Speaking before the publication of the organisation’s annual review for 2014, he said he agreed with the Government that a strategic approach was needed. But he said that the extra housing, either public or social housing, would take time, as would any move, welcome as it would be, to regulate private rents.
As well as emergency beds, he called on the Government to use the likes of McKee Barracks as a reception centre for families living in B&Bs, who are forced out during the day. He said such a centre would “bring some sort of normality” to their lives.
The annual review said around 80,000 meals were provided last year and 5,329 healthcare interventions were made, an increase of 19%.
It said more than 1,000 people accessed their GP services — an increase of 28%.
“These statistics reflect the harsh reality of homelessness and drug use and life on the streets,” said Mr Geoghegan.
Other figures show that 24,000 needle exchange interventions were provided, a 6% rise on 2013. This involved 3,179 individuals, including 527 new users. Some 2,888 people received counselling, an 18% rise on 2013.
Mr Geoghegan said more than half of the people attending their St Francis Farm Residential Detox and Rehab units in Carlow were from outside Dublin, from 19 counties.
“It highlights the real need for detox and rehab facilities across Ireland,” he said.
The review is due to be unveiled this morning by President Michael D Higgins.
Mr Geoghegan said the last time Mr Higgins released the report it was 1995, when there were 2,500 people on methadone.
“Now, that’s just shy of 10,000,” Mr Geoghegan said.
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