Merchants Quay warns of deepening drug addiction crisis

The group says 6,539 people used its homeless services in 2016

Merchants Quay warns of deepening drug addiction crisis

Tony Geoghegan of Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) speaking in 2014 | Image: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

A charity working with homeless drug users has warned that the 'unprecedented' level of homelessness is deepening the drug addiction crisis.

Merchants Quay Ireland has launched its annual report for 2016.

It says this highlights the continued growth of homelessness and its impact on the drug crisis in Ireland.

The charity's CEO, Tony Geoghegan, says: "The impact of the current unprecedented level of homelessness is most acutely felt at street level, where active drug users are being left behind as the government scramble to address the urgent needs of families.

"While we respect the need to prioritise families, and in particular children, we must not lose sight of the urgent needs of thousands of vulnerable single men and women, and in particular those with more complex needs, who are being pushed further down the housing queue."

The group says 6,539 people used its homeless services in 2016, while almost 10,000 people nationwide sought help from them for addiction, mental health and homelessness.

Merchants Quay provided 117,398 meals over the course of the year - an increase of almost 19% compared with 2015.

73% increase in healthcare interventions

It says emergency shelter was provided its Night Café for 2,022 people, which caters for up to 70 people every night of the week.

The charity also provided 7,649 healthcare interventions in 2016, an increase of 73% compared with 2015.

While 2,519 individuals used its needle exchange service - 421 of these were first-time presenters to the service.

In total, there were 25,603 needle exchange visits in 2016.

It says that of the 114 people who completed rehabilitation programmes, 47% were homeless.

Mr Geoghegan says: "The harsh reality of living on the street as an active drug user is that the possibility of engaging in treatment successfully, when you don’t know where you’re going to be sleeping day to day, is extremely remote.

"Against all odds, some people do successfully engage in and complete treatment.

"However, their efforts are hugely undermined in the current housing crisis, where access to stable accommodation is almost impossible."

"If the Government is serious about addressing the homeless crisis, then it must increase investment in the vital services needed to move people out of rough sleeping and emergency accommodation and into recovery programmes and on to stable accommodation.

"At the end of the day, society isn’t just about money, it’s about people and people’s lives and ultimately addressing the drugs and homeless crisis is about saving lives."