61% increase in usage for homeless and addiction charity in the midlands

Almost 1,300 people in the midlands accessed supports in 2020 from Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), a charity that works in the areas of homelessness and addiction, according to the charity's annual report which was published this week.

A total of 1,298 people in the midlands received support from the charity, in comparison to 787 in 2019 - an increase of 61%.

Support was provided to the individuals through a total of 36,181 interventions, and among those individuals family support was provided to 119 people with 1,153 interventions.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, family support was offered over the phone or through virtual meetings.

Services that the charity provides in the midlands include outreach-based crisis support, mobile harm reduction, needle and syringe exchange, rehabilitation, a community employment scheme, aftercare supports, and support for families affected by substance use.

In the past several years Merchants Quay Ireland has expanded beyond Dublin where it originally began its work, and now operates out of Open Door on Payne's Lane in Athlone, as well as in Laois, Offaly, Longford and Roscommon.

In 2020, a location in Tullamore was identified as the new base for the midlands service, but due to delays in works as a result of level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, it is envisaged that the service will operate out of this location in late 2021.

Funding was also received in 2019 which will allow the MQI to recruit a new Rehab and Aftercare Worker.

Other findings in the report include, nationwide, 1,174 unique clients engaged with the Homeless Crisis Contact team with 9,867 interventions, compared with 653 clients and 4504 interventions in 2019 (an increase of 79%).

The charity's young person support worker also supported 262 young people aged between 18-24, up from 72 last year, while MQI provided 49,884 meals on a take-away basis to people who are homeless, with an average of 130 meals provided daily.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Merchants Quay Ireland Chief Executive Paula Byrne said 2020 was an "exceptionally difficult year" for those needing support from the charity.

“2020 was a year of challenge and change for everyone in Ireland," she said. "For MQI clients – women and men who are homeless and struggling with mental health issues and addiction – it was an exceptionally difficult year.

"Our clients endured greater isolation and fear than ever before as day services across the city were restricted due to the impact of the pandemic. The full impact on people’s mental and physical health may not be realised for years to come.

“At MQI, we have seen an increase in demand for our addiction services. For some clients their addiction deepened. For others their recovery journey was delayed or put on hold."

She said the pandemic acted as another trauma "on top of a life-time of trauma."

"It is crucial that the government holds to its commitment to prioritise the issues of drugs, mental health and homelessness and will provide the leadership and resources needed to address these issues in a real and meaningful way.

"With the right support, vulnerable people can and do rebuild their lives and reach their full potential," she concluded.