‘A major shift on homelessness is needed now’ after street deaths

As two more people die on our streets, experts link homelessness, housing, trauma, and addiction
‘A major shift on homelessness is needed now’ after street deaths
Gary Dineen, one of the men found dead in Cork city this week.

A profound shift in the way we deal with homelessness and addiction is needed, an expert has claimed, as campaigners warn of a new surge in deaths in recent days.

UCC lecturer Sharon Lambert said there were at least three key strands to focus on regarding homelessness in Ireland at the moment.

She was speaking to the Irish Examiner following two deaths on the streets in Cork in the past three days, as well as 10 in Dublin in July alone — a stark figure considering 34 deaths related to homelessness in all of 2019.

Gary Dineen, one of the men who was found dead in Cork city this week, recently spoke on radio about his plight, and his despair around homelessness.

“I have been homeless a few times over the years but I have always got back on my feet and got a place again,” the father of two told 96FM’s Opinion Line.

“I am homeless about two and a half years now ... I feel like, with the homeless, that nobody cares about anyone. There was another fellow pulled out of the river who I knew very well.

“I don’t have the heart or the strength for it any more.”

Mr Dineen was five when his mother died, and his former partner died recently — both events had left him devastated, he said.

Dr Lambert told the Irish Examiner that she had rarely, if ever, met a homeless person that did not have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Left untreated, PTSD can be chronic and long-lasting, leading to dysfunction in people who may otherwise live ‘normal’ lives, and can manifest in drug and alcohol misuse.

Dr Lambert said that while homelessness and addiction were complex issues, they had to be taken together in many cases if treatment and help was to work. Housing, trauma training, and dual diagnosis — when mental disorders occur with addiction — were key in addressing the scourge of homelessness, she said.

“Housing is fundamental, as someone cannot deal with high-level problems if they are first worried about where they will put their head down at night,” she said.

“Trauma training would help alleviate so many cases. The data shows that people who act aggressively or inappropriately do so because they are having a traumatic experience.

“I have yet to meet a homeless person without PTSD. If all employees of agencies and organisations were trained to deal with people having traumatic episodes, the outcomes would be much better.”

Removing the stigma around drug and alcohol addiction would also help the effort to counter homelessness, she said.

“Drugs and drink are seen as moral failings, but the truth is we all have some form of addictions or coping mechanisms that lead us to self-treat,” Dr Lambert said. “Refusing treatment or a bed to a person because they are using drugs or drink will not help their homelessness.

The pandemic had shone a light on how agencies and departments could work together under one umbrella, campaigners said.

Paul Sheehan of Cork Simon said the first four months of the pandemic had seen a level of cross-cooperation that was unprecedented.

“It is difficult to pinpoint any exact cause for a surge in homelessness, and it is not for the want of services at the moment, to be fair,” said Mr Sheehan.

“However, housing is key. When Covid-19 hit, we worked so closely together with housing, health, and government departments.

“Any long-term solution will have to involve housing, it is as simple as that.”

More in this section