Press Release

“COVID-19 exacerbating mental health issues amongst vulnerable people”– Merchants Quay Ireland launches 2019 Annual Review

“COVID-19 exacerbating mental health issues amongst vulnerable people”– Merchants Quay Ireland launches 2019 Annual Review


Last year saw a marked increase in mental health interventions amongst vulnerable people – and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a bad situation worse. This is according to Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), a leading homeless and addiction charity, which today published its 2019 Annual Review.

The 2019 report shows an 11% increase in individuals seeking help for mental health issues – 433 people were supported during a total of 4,208 mental health interventions.

Speaking at the launch of the Review , the Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan TD acknowledged the work undertaken by Merchants Quay Ireland in providing services to homeless drug users as part of the HSE-led Dublin homeless COVID-19 response team. The cooperation between agencies through the homeless response team has protected very vulnerable people and saved many lives in the process.

Minister Feighan said:

“In Budget 2021, the Department of Health is providing €4m to address the addiction and mental health needs of people who are homeless. I want to highlight in particular the provision of a new stepped model of mental health care for people who are homeless in Dublin. The new service will develop mental health care pathways for the homeless population into and between primary care, addiction services and specialist mental health services and further resource specialist mental health homeless teams, to provide coordination, governance, clinical expertise and training/advice to best meet the needs of the homeless population. The service will be dynamic, recovery-focused and integrate mental and physical health in transitioning people back to mainstream health services, housing and their communities.”

The experience of MQI’s team on the ground so far this year suggests an increased demand for mental health services – at a time when COVID-19 is making it more difficult than ever to deliver these vital services safely.

Commenting on the report, MQI Chief Executive Paula Byrne said:

“Last year we had 11,600 people in need come through our doors – evidence of a deepening social crisis, in housing, in homelessness and in addiction. The number of people accessing our mental health services jumped by 11%.

“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. 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.

“We welcome the Government’s new national health policy – Sharing the Vision – A Mental Health Policy for Everyone – but we need to ensure that it delivers for people who are homeless and in addiction. We are calling on the Government to prioritize investment in the mental health services being provided by the voluntary and community sector, including deployment of new technologies such as telemedicine and virtual clinics as a way to support vulnerable groups”.

Today’s report shows that in 2019, MQI helped over 11,600 individuals, across a variety of services. Other key figures include:

  • MQI’s Riverbank Centre provided 109,010 meals to people who are homeless -an increase of 6% on 2018 figures.
  • The Night Café staff rolled out sleeping mats 16,652 times, providing emergency shelter for 1,677 people with nowhere else to turn.
  • 564 people aged between 18 – 25 were supported by MQI’s staff, with over 100 individuals supported by the Young Person’s Support Worker to move on from crisis to a positive pathway in life.
  • 1,985 people attended MQI for over 9,000 primary health care appointments (GP, Nurse, Chiropodist, dentist, counsellor).
  • 3,140 people attended the Health Promotion Unit in 2019, where they learned how to minimise the risks of drug use and were provided with the option of a pathway into treatment. This was an increase of 14.5% on 2018.
  • 2,371 prisoners accessed the National Prison-Based Addiction Counselling Service. A 10% increase on 2018.
  • In the Midlands, MQI provided drug and alcohol treatment support to 787 people, an increase of 11.5% on 2018.
  • 139 people were supported by our East Coast service in Wicklow and Arklow town.


– ENDS –

For more information or to arrange an interview with our Chief Executive, Paula Byrne, please contact:

Laura McDowell
Communications Co-Ordinator
Merchants Quay Ireland
T: 01 531 2958
M: 086 7793 206


Twitter: @MerchantsQuayIR


Notes to Editor

About MQI
Merchants Quay Ireland is a leading Irish charity working with people who are homeless and people who use drugs. The organisation provides services ranging from open access crisis intervention and health promotion services to day-support programmes, educational programmes, vocational training, residential treatment, detox and prison-based addiction counselling.

2019 Annual Review

The 2019 MQI Annual Review can be accessed HERE.

MQI Annual Review figures:

  • Riverbank Centre provided 109,010 meals in 2019
  • 5,070 visits to the GP in Merchants Quay Ireland
  • 3,004 visits to the MQI nursing team
  • 838 people supported by our mental health team
  • 3,140 people helped by our harm reduction team
  • 2, 371 people supported through In-Prison Counselling
  • 787 people supported in the Midlands
  • 181 people accessed treatment through MQI’s detox and rehab services


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