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'We were in crisis before coronavirus': Housing charities set aside rooms for homeless people who need to self-isolate

Homeless charities are preparing for Covid-19.

A tent in Dublin city centre.
A tent in Dublin city centre.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

HOUSING SERVICES ARE taking steps to protect homeless people as Ireland steps up preparations for a major coronavirus outbreak. 

Emergency accommodation, hostels and family hubs, already struggling under the burden of a homelessness crisis in Ireland, are now taking drastic measures to protect homeless people from the coronavirus. 

Facing something of an unprecedented situation, charities and homeless services – especially in Dublin – are trying to work together with Dublin City Council to co-ordinate a response. 

“We were in crisis before this came along,” Mike Allen from Focus Ireland told TheJournal.ie. He says it’s now more like “crisis squared”. 

Allen says that charities simply can’t scale back “essential services”, pointing to the organisation’s daily coffee shop and other day services that provide food and shelter for people who can only access overnight hostels. 

Self-isolation

One of the major challenges for homeless people who may have coronavirus is self-isolation. 

An already vulnerable population, many of whom suffer from health problems, they share rooms in emergency accommodation or cramped hotel rooms for families, making it difficult to realistically self-isolate for anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19. 

“If they need to self-isolate, it is impossible in their current circumstances to do so,” Allen says. 

Focus Ireland is planning to set aside around 20 housing units that are currently either finished or temporarily vacant if homeless people need to self-isolate. 

“We’re trying to hold a certain amount of our housing units, which may be empty, so we will have those available [for people] who might need to self-isolate,” Allen said. 

The organisation is also trying to work with other homeless services to create more “rolling bookings” so homeless people aren’t moving around different hostels every night. 

“This is putting people at significant risk,” Allen said. 

Last night, 10 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Ireland – bringing the total to 34.

At a press conference yesterday evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said: “98% of all suspected cases in Ireland have tested negative. While Ireland remains in containment phase, there is no room for complacency.”

“We all have a part to play in limiting and slowing the spread of this disease.”

With the country still in a ‘containment phase’, the government has announced a €2.4 billion package of reforms for sick pay, illness benefit and supplementary benefit to prepare for the long-term impact of coronvirus. 

Preparation

Peter McVerry Trust, which is mostly based in Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Louth, last night held the third meeting of its internal taskforce dedicated Covid-19. 

Francis Doherty, from the charity, said the first concern was to keep services running and to continue operating as normal. 

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Peter McVerry Trust, he said, has “identified a number of buildings where we can provide isolation rooms”. 

These are mostly in Dublin, Doherty said, where they expect to deal with the most cases if coronavirus begins to spread seriously. 

Comparing the preparations to the ‘beast from the east’ storm in 2018, he said it was about “making sure people are aware of the issue” and encouraging “them to come in to use the available emergency accommodation”. 

With 500 packs containing masks and protective equipment ready to be used by Peter McVerry Trust staff, the charity is also been talking to GPs and the HSE about ensuring homeless people on methadone can access it if they need to self-isolate. 

Another concern is ensuring that there are “coping plans” in place for people who might have the coronavirus while also suffering from addiction. 

A spokesperson for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive said that a “homeless services specific HSE guidance note has issued to all local authorities and homeless service providers”. 

The executive, the spokesperson said, is “closely monitoring the evolving situation and will activate contingency plans, including contingency beds and suitable accommodation as and when required”. 

They also said that “the majority of placements into emergency accommodation are already continuous bookings”. 

Like other organisations, housing charities now have little choice but to prepare for the worst. 

“There is a sense of gearing up to protect the people we’re working with,” Mike Allen said. 

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