Merchant’s Quay Ireland: ‘How do we cater for our rough sleepers?’

by Gazette Reporter

Imagine the sticky heat of early summer 2020; you’re walking around all day long carrying everything you own in a backpack.

Accessing drinking water is a real problem. You’re tired, you’re hungry and you need a shower, never mind sourcing a clean, safe bed for the night.

And in the midst of a global pandemic, you’re terrified of dying alone in a park or side street, and no one will know who to contact, where to find next of kin; you’ll become just another statistic.

This is the reality for a homeless person today says Carol Casey, head of communications at Merchant’s Quay Ireland (MQI).

She told Dublin Gazette: “We had a client aged in his early 40s who used to sleep in a hostel with eight others; he chose then to sleep rough because he thought he was safer with the spread of the pandemic.

“He is in a tent, relying on a budgie bath, using baby wipes to clean his feet. For him, it’s so important to stay clean.

“He sleeps in the Phoenix Park, and when he wakes up cold every day, he heads to a 24-hour McDonald’s first to warm up and get a hot drink.”

The Covid-19 restrictions hit the homeless worst of all, affecting their access to food and shelter as well as health, addiction and mental health services.

Greg from MQI stocking up a van with hot meals

Carol revealed: “Facing the winter months, our biggest issue at MQI is how we are going to cater for our rough sleepers. As the restrictions continue, we cannot offer our regular day services, somewhere our homeless clients can drop in to.

“Somewhere warm and safe; to nap beside a radiator, to shower and get dry clothes. There’s a human connection here where people are treated with dignity and compassion – remember, the homeless are also so lonely and Covid has isolated them even further.

“They feel they are on their own, as many have lost contact with loved ones or family over the years. We are their surrogate family at MQI.

“They’ve had a long difficult journey to arrive at our door and to ask for help – and now, to find it closed…”

Miss Casey stressed how MQI had to prioritise persons requiring mental health services, some who may self-harm, others waiting to enter rehab or detox.

“What the mental health team are seeing is how this (the pandemic) has had a massive negative effect on many of our clients. The isolation has increased their levels of anxiety, along with the fear of Covid itself, of getting the virus.

“If you’re homeless, you’re already susceptible to a respiratory condition; they are already afraid of getting pneumonia, and for some, it has increased suicidal tendencies and self-harm.

“Our phone counselling is ongoing for those experiencing anxiety and mental health issues. We couldn’t bring 100s of people in during the pandemic, it wasn’t safe but we did prioritise mental health time and services.”

Shower services

Carol revealed: “Showering is such a basic facility and we used to provide dry clothing, clean underwear, and give them hygiene kits.

“We met a client recently who hadn’t washed in three months. We are now remodelling our shower block, which we’re hoping to see open for next month, and to prioritise it for those sleeping rough.

“We had three showers, now operating as two wet rooms which have to be completely sanitised after every user, to be made safe for all staff and users.”

She added: “Homeless people who are in recovery, they can’t access their AA meetings or supports and while AA and NA offer online meetings, the homeless don’t have access to laptops, zoom, even Wifi.

“Some are fearful of relapse and others were about to enter rehab programmes so their recovery is ‘on pause’. Sadly some will die before all the services are back on stream.”

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