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Deaths of two people sleeping rough in tents in Phoenix Park over Christmas confirmed

According to figures from the DRHE, there were at least 50 deaths among people who accessed homeless services in Dublin across last year.
Jan 5th 2021, 3:52 PM 53,003 52

TWO PEOPLE WHO have in the past availed of homelessness services in Dublin city died while sleeping rough in tents in the Phoenix Park over the Christmas period, it’s emerged. 

The deaths, which occurred separately, were recorded late last month, according to sources with knowledge of the events. 

Responding to a query from TheJournal.ie the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) confirmed there had been three deaths of people who had availed of homeless services in the city over the Christmas period. 

According to figures from the DRHE – which is operated by Dublin City Council – there were at least 50 deaths among people who accessed homeless services in Dublin across last year. 

To date there have been relatively few cases of Covid-19 reported among those who are homeless in Dublin and work is under way to ensure that the third wave of the virus doesn’t hit this at-risk group.

Ahead of what’s set to be the coldest night of the winter so far and amid the continuing surge in coronavirus cases across the wider community, those sleeping rough on the streets and in tents are being encouraged to take up vacant emergency accommodation beds in the coming weeks.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, clinical lead for Covid-19 and homelesness in Dublin city Dr Austin O’Carroll said that there may be a heightened risk for those who share tents with others.

“We need to persuade people sleeping in tents to take up the offers of accommodation. Sleeping rough is extremely bad for their health. 

“Rough sleepers die younger due to the effects of living in such poor circumstances as well as the risks of overdose, assault and untreated health conditions. I also believe there is risk of the spread of Covid as those sharing tents live in very crowded circumstances.”

Dr O’Carroll said the Covid-19 risk will exacerbate the already high risk to the health and wellbeing of those who sleep in tents. 

“It is now the dead of winter, we are in our third wave of Covid-19 and a national lockdown has been implemented.

“It’s important that anyone who is working with, or simply knows, someone sleeping in a tent encourages them even more to take up a bed that is there for them. They will be safer all round.”

Campaigners have called for urgent action to address the number of homeless deaths last year, and the HSE and Department of Housing has commissioned a “comprehensive review” of deaths in homeless services in 2020, which is expected to be completed early this year. 

The DRHE has also said it is concerned at the “big increase” in the use of tents throughout the city in recent times.

In its update to councillors in December, it said this increase in the use of tents had come at a time when there are an “unprecedented” number of unused emergency accommodation beds in the city each night since the summer. 

As of the end of October – the latest month for which some figures are available – there were 82 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across homeless services in Dublin. Dr O’Carroll said that since March there had also been three deaths recorded.

“In March, we set about creating a coordinated response to this,” he said. “It’s involved lots of organisations.”

Shielding, or cooconing, has been provided for the homeless persons most at risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19. At the end of October, 239 homeless individuals were residing in shielding facilities in Dublin. 

According to data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, outbreaks of Covid-19 have also remained low nationally in recent months.

From August until the end of 2020, there were just 15 cases notified from 7 outbreaks in homeless facilities across the country. 

Dr O’Carroll said: “We’ve had an extremely low number of cases. And we thought we’d be among the worst-affected sectors. Our approach has been effective so far, and we’re hoping we survive the next month.

There’s been three deaths. We thought it could be 20 at best and 30 at worst by this point. One death is too many but the efforts so far are a tribute to all the work that’s been done. 

According to the latest Department of Housing figures, the total number of people in emergency accommodation was 8,484 in November. Of these, 6,032 were adults with 4,536 of these single adults. 

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And, according to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive’s rough sleeper count, there were 139 people sleeping on the streets of the capital late last year. 

The street outreach team, operated by the Dublin Simon Community, operates every day. The DRHE said this team “meets with people sleeping rough, including people in tents, to support/encourage them into the available emergency accommodation”.

A spokesperson added: “The Outreach Service works in close collaboration with the Housing First Programme. The team also bring sandwiches and snacks along with clean clothes, hand sanitisers and face masks for anyone sleeping rough.”

Tent dangers

Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, told TheJournal.ie that over the years he had seen the risks people living in tents in cities can face.

“Having worked with people who are homeless since the early 90s initially in London and then in Ireland, I have known of people who have had their tents burnt while they are still in them; been physically assaulted in tents; been victims of domestic violence in tents; been sexually assaulted in tents; died of fatal overdoses in tents; and other such disturbing incidents befalling people who are homeless whilst living in tents.

So you see, providing people who sleep rough with tents addresses risks associated with exposure to cold wet weather; however, it does not address a raft of other potential harms people on the streets are exposed to whilst isolated in a tent.

Duffin said that it’s of vital importance that people are encouraged to take up beds that are available, particularly as the weather turns colder and in the context of the rise in Covid-19 cases. 

Dr O’Carroll added his aim is to ensure that an opportunity is taken now to arrange accommodation for all those who are sleeping rough while there is capacity.

However, he did acknowledge the challenges involved in persuading some individuals to take up the offer of accommodation. 

“There’s a variety of reasons why they might turn it down,” he said.

“It could be addiction issues, it could be mental health issues, it could be plenty of of things. But there’s so many negative health effects of living in tents. And Covid is now an extra risk on top of that. 

We’ve an opportunity now. There’s three main reasons now to make sure rough sleepers get accommodation. It’s cold, there’s Covid and we have the opportunity to get people off the streets and into beds. They can get proper treatment if they need it, and the kind of wraparound supports that are essential. 
This situation [with Covid] could change over the next two-to-three weeks. It’s going to get worse. We have beds for isolation – but no positive cases in isolation at this time. We have plans in place and are confident. Everyone will benefit if people can access these kinds of supports.
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Sean Murray

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