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  • Southside

‘The worst crisis in living memory’

Monday, 11th September, 2017 8:00am

Story by Neil Fetherstonhaugh
‘The worst crisis in living memory’

John and Christina: having addiction issues while homeless makes life almost impossible

‘The worst crisis in living memory’

John and Christina: having addiction issues while homeless makes life almost impossible

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TWO reports issued last week have painted a damning picture of the country’s drug addiction and homelessness crises.

In one report, issued by Merchants Quay Ireland, it was revealed how unprecedented levels of homelessness are deepening the city’s drug addiction crisis.

Meanwhile, Focus Ireland, who said that a total of 8,160 people were homeless in Ireland in July, marked a line in the sand in the battle towards ending the crisis.

Speaking at the launch of the Merchants Quay Ireland Annual Review for 2016, CEO Tony Geoghegan said the report highlighted the continued growth of homelessness and its impact on the drug crisis in Ireland. 

 “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 scrambles to address the urgent needs of families,” he said.

“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 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.”

He added: “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.”

This was borne out by a number of people Southside People spoke to at the Merchants Quay office on Friday morning.

One man, Gerard, said it was very difficult to get into a drug treatment centre like Coolmine if you don’t have an address. 

“They can only do so much,” he said, referring to the services offered by Merchants Quay. “They have counsellors there that we can talk to and that, but you’re really up against it if you don’t have a  roof over your head.”

Gerard, who is from Ballyfermot originally but has been on the streets for 13 years, added: “I got out of jail where I did a drug treatment course but then I was released back onto the streets when all I needed was some stable accommodation.”

Another couple, John and Christina, pointed out that if you don’t have your own home then you are simply left to wander the streets.

“Some hostels let you stay in during the day but others don’t,” said Christina. “And if you are on their street it’s really difficult to address those (addiction) issues.

“There are treatment options there but if you’re back on the streets then you’re back to square one.”

“To be homeless and to have an addiction makes life impossible,” added John.

“Not impossible but it makes it that much harder.”

Tony Geoghegan added: “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.

“Most of all, investing in these areas is about reducing the misery associated with homelessness and drugs for the individual, for their families, their communities and for society as a whole.”

The Focus Ireland report was issued on the eve of an emergency summit called by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy on the issue of homelessness.

The charity said the latest figures mean that the total number of people homeless has now shot up by a staggering 25 per cent since July 2016.

It is the highest number of homeless adults (up 41), the highest number of homeless families (up 64) and the highest number of homeless children (up 78) in the history of the State.

Focus Ireland Advocacy Director, Mike Allen, said: “These latest dreadful figures clearly show that the Government Rebuilding Ireland strategy is failing to get to grips with the escalating crisis.

“We are in the middle of the worst crisis in living memory as over 8,000 people are homeless nationwide – more than one in every three of these people is a child.

“This must act as a line in the sand for the Government and it is a stark reminder of the challenge that the Minister's 'summit' must address.”

Reacting to the latest figures showing over 8,000 people as homeless, inclusive of nearly 3,000 children, Senator Kevin Humphreys called for urgent measures to address the crisis.

He said this should include tackling the number of properties lost full-time to Airbnb and bringing vacant properties back in use.

“With the level of homelessness continuing to rise we need urgent measures to bring more properties back into use,” Senator Humphreys said.

“It has been estimated than anywhere between 2,500 and 6,000 apartments and houses in Dublin are now marketed as full-time, short-term lets through platforms like Airbnb.

“It is time that this was tackled through planning enforcement to put them back into use for families.

“It's not acceptable that thousands of possible homes in our capital city are used for tourists over families.”

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said there is “not a problem” with funding ahead of the emergency summit on housing and homelessness in Dublin last Friday.

The minister told protesters who had gathered ahead of the meeting that “this year we’re going to build four times as many social houses as we did in 2015”. He also said the crisis was “the top priority for this Government”.

At the summit, the views of all 31 of the country’s local authority managers were being canvassed.

The chief executives of the local authorities, along with their housing department personnel, attended the meeting at the Custom House.

Sinn Fein's city councillors staged a protest outside the minister’s housing summit after claiming they had not received invitations.

The councillors said they had been trying to arrange a meeting with the minister since June to discuss how they could work together to battle homelessness.

However, they said they  were left frustrated after they were not invited to the summit at the Custom House.

Daithi Doolan, chairperson of Dublin City Council's Housing Committee, said: “Dublin is in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis.

“People are literally dying from homelessness in Dublin.”

 

The Merchants Quay offices in Dublin. Gerard, who has been 13 years on the streets, says charities like Merchants Quay can only do so much.

Read the digital editions of the Dublin People Northside East, Northside West & Southside here