Warning that Ireland's homeless numbers may rise 'significantly' in coming months

Warning that Ireland's homeless numbers may rise 'significantly' in coming months

As Merchants Quay Ireland launches its Lenten campaign, the charity is warning that the number of people without a place to live is likely to increase further. File picture: PA

Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) has warned that homelessness is likely to rise “significantly” in the coming months due to a range of issues, including the lifting of Covid-19 precautionary measures and the likelihood of refugees coming to Ireland to escape the invasion of Ukraine.

The charity’s head of services, Niamh Donnelly, said MQI was already working on a full reopening of its Sunday service, which offers hot food and drinks from breakfast at 7.30am to lunch at 2.30pm, because of growing demand.

Ms Donnelly said MQI has not had a discussion about any potential reopening of its night cafe, which ran from 2015 before closing at the start of the pandemic, but she added that nothing could be ruled out.

MQI has launched its Lenten appeal so as to fund its Sunday service, and amid a 10% rise in homelessness overall in the past year.

Ms Donnelly said there was a range of factors that could push that figure still higher in the coming months. One of those is a reduction in special measures put in place during the pandemic, such as moving people from single occupancy settings to multi-occupancy — something, she said, tended to result in some people ending up on the streets.

“All the reports are that homelessness is going to increase very significantly,” said Ms Donnelly. 

You have got the fact that landlords are no longer prohibited from evicting tenants. You have the cost of living crisis, heating, rent increases. 

"The other thing that is very significant is a likely increase in refugees with what is going on in Ukraine," she said. "Everything is trending upwards." 

She said these challenges needed to be acknowledged and planned for, with measures that will stop the "revolving door" of people entering homelessness and struggling to access stable accommodation.

She said the reinstatement of a Sunday service — currently operating at a reduced level — was in response to need, but had to be funded separately from its Monday to Friday services.

The night cafe offered mat-on-the-floor accommodation for dozens of people before it closed and, in one year of operation, had more than 2,100 unique clients. It began as a temporary measure and had to close at the start of the pandemic.

Ms Donnelly said there had not been a conversation about any form of reopening but added: "I don't think Merchant's Quay would ever rule anything out." She said:

If we spot a gap for an evening or overnight provision we would have to make a case and set out and fundraise. 

MQI CEO Paula Byrne said of the Sunday service: "No matter when a person finds themselves homeless for the first time, we need to be there to guide them towards the support they need. Life happens in the evenings and at weekends, so safeguarding our Sunday service is more important than ever."

• You can learn more about the work of Merchants Quay Ireland by visiting their site at mqi.ie where you can also support their Lenten campaign. 

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