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'Twice I woke up and a person was dead beside me'

Over 11,600 people who are homeless or in addiction were helped by Merchants Quay Ireland in 2019.

Image: Shutterstock/Derick Hudson

DAVID BECAME HOMELESS in his early thirties after two bouts of cancer during his twenties that he says “knocked him sideways”. 

The cancer had “destroyed” his confidence, and he started using drugs to cope with his mental health issues. 

“I managed for the first couple of years. I had my own place, I was working. I had money saved up for a deposit on a house. And then things just spiralled out of control,” David recalls in Merchant Quay Ireland’s 2019 annual report, being launched today. 

“It got bad very quickly. I lost people around me, my job and my girlfriend. All those things vanished.”

David spent years sleeping in hostels and doorways around Dublin city centre, twice waking up next to someone who had died. 

I was going out of my head and taking drugs just to survive on the streets. I wanted to get help years ago but when you’re in addiction, you just can’t reach out and grab it. I couldn’t even talk to anyone about it, that’s how alone I felt.

Eventually, David turned to Merchants Quay Ireland for support, “that’s what kept me holding on I suppose”.

“Being able to come to Riverbank for a shower and something to eat kept me together. And the help I got there from the staff, the support they gave me when I needed it most.” 

David later started taking methadone after a spell in the hospital with septicaemia in his foot. From there he went on to detox at MQI’s St Francis Farm Residential Rehab and Detox Centre in Tullow.

“As soon as I arrived at St Francis Farm, I felt safe. I felt people understood me. The staff can relate to how people’s problems start. It’s like unravelling a knot.”

The main thing with me is sorting out my mental health, just accepting myself for who I am. I got a lot of stuff out during the one-to-one counselling. Being off drugs in rehab and doing all this work, it’s like I’ve just been reborn.

David says he has started rebuilding relationships with his family in the last couple of months and is determined to make a nice life for himself. 

Without the support that MQI gave him, he says he would probably “be in the ground”

Annual review 

Merchants Quay Ireland said it saw an 11% increase in individuals seeking help for mental health issues last year, supporting 433 people during a total of 4,208 mental health interventions.  

According to MQI’s annual review for 2019, it had 11,600 people in need come through its doors and experienced a rise in the number of people availing of its services across the board. 

The charity provides homeless outreach and drug rehabilitation services at every level of addiction. Its day centre on Merchants Quay in Dublin’s south inner city provides food, medical and counselling support for at-risk and homeless people.

In 2019, MQI’s Riverbank Centre provided 109,010 meals to people who are homeless – an increase of 6% on 2018 figures – while it’s Night Café provided emergency shelter for 1,677 people.

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Speaking ahead of the launch of today’s report, MQI chief executive Paula Byrne said the charity has seen a marked increase in mental health interventions amongst vulnerable people – and the Covid-19 pandemic has made a bad situation worse.

“During this pandemic, life is especially difficult for people who are homeless, who must endure greater isolation than ever before as day services across the city are restricted due to the impact of Covid-19. Many of our clients are outside all day, in all weather, with nowhere to go indoors for a warm meal, a shower, or a comforting conversation,” she said. 

“There is no doubt that this social isolation and increased hardship is having a negative impact on our clients’ mental health. This is further compounded by how challenging it is to deliver mental health services safely during this crisis. There is a very real risk that some people will fall through the cracks this winter.”

Latest figures from the Department of Housing show that 8,656 people were in emergency accommodation in Ireland in September, including 6,073 adults and 2,583 children. 

Last year, 112 people accessed MQI’s family support services in Dublin and the Midlands, while 564 young people, aged 18 to 25, were supported by the team. 

A total of 181 were people admitted to the charity’s detox and rehab. David was one of those individuals. 

About the author:

Adam Daly

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