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'It’s terrifying rough sleeping. I stay up all night, lying in a doorway'

Merchants Quay Ireland is launching its 2018 annual report today.

shutterstock_1076759381 File photo Shutterstock / Orawan Pattarawimonchai Shutterstock / Orawan Pattarawimonchai / Orawan Pattarawimonchai

AMY BECAME HOMELESS two years ago at the age of 24. 

A few years prior to this, Amy’s mother became ill and required chemotherapy sessions at St James’ Hospital in Dublin, which Amy dropped her off at. 

While her mother was at the hospital, Amy would head to the city centre to get drugs. 

“I’ll never forgive myself for them times. It eats me up inside, the guilt,” Amy recalls in Merchant Quay Ireland’s 2018 annual report, being launched today. 

After her mother died, Amy’s father began drinking heavily and her brother left the country. 

“It was tough, but I had my partner. He wasn’t using drugs and that helped me get myself better,” she recalls. 

At this stage, the couple moved in together and Amy had a job. “Life was good,” she says. 

However, last July, her partner took his own life. 

After his death, Amy says she “spiralled”. She became homeless and as a result ended up sleeping rough. 

She describes how she blanked the pain of her situation out “with the drugs”. 

It’s terrifying rough sleeping. I stay up all night, lying in a doorway. I’d be afraid what would happen if I slept because I was on my own.
And then anxiety kicked in so then I was eating any type of tablet to get my anxiety down.

Amy says the worst part of her situation was having to beg for money. “It’s so degrading,” she says.

Eventually, Amy turned to Merchants Quay Ireland for support. She attended the charity’s Night Café service, which provides yoga mats for up to 65 people to sleep on each night who have not been able to source a place to stay.

Now, she avails of numerous services the charity have on offer. 

“I come here for everything now. Clothes, food, to brush my teeth, the doctor, showers. There’s nowhere else in Dublin I can shower,” she says. 

“Just basic stuff like that makes a huge difference.” 

Annual review

Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) is launching its annual review for 2018 today. The review shows that there was again a rise in the number of people availing of its services across the board. 

MQI 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 2018, MQI’s Night Café provided 17,612 nights safe sleeping to people. Amy was one of those individuals. 

Latest figures from the Department of Housing show that 10,338 people were in emergency accommodation in Ireland in August, including 6,490 adults and 3,848 children.

Speaking ahead of the launch of today’s report, MQI chief executive Paula Byrne said that “homelessness and addiction on Irish streets are increasingly being seen as normal”. 

Last year, MQI helped 11,301 people with needs spanning homelessness, addiction and mental health. 

By every measure, the crisis is worsening. The evidence is clear – we are losing ground on homelessness. 

Byrne also noted that Ireland faces high levels of addiction.

A total of 30,068 needle exchange visits were made to the charity last year. This service provides harm reduction and safer injecting advice to people.

“We currently have the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe, and we are deeply concerned that in the coming years this figure could increase significantly,” Byrne said. 

She added that MQI is “often the only door open to people who are marginalised and vulnerable”. 

Homelessness is not just about a roof over your head. It is the anxiety, the depression, and the isolation that comes with that. Its effects are profound and long-lasting. 

Health services

Because MQI is often the first place homeless people living with addiction turn to for help, the charity sees its Health Promotion Unit (HPU) is an important part of early intervention. 

The HPU provides people who use drugs with information about the risks associated with drug use and the means to minimise such risks. It also offers people who use drugs a pathway into treatment. 

Last year, 2,742 people used the HPU service, an increase of 6% on 2017, of which 12% were new clients, according to the 2018 annual report. 

A total of 4,868 people visited Merchant Quay’s GP in 2018. There were 253 appointments with the charity’s dentist last year. 

389 people were supported by its mental health team. Furthermore, 2,149 people were supported through in-prison counselling. 

The charity provided 207 young people aged 18 and 25 with young person support workers. 

The charity’s Riverbank Centre provided 102,658 hot and cold meals to people who are homeless in 2018. 

Need help? Support is available:

  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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