Press Release

Groups working with people who are homeless or who use drugs call on new Government to protect most vulnerable

New Government must act quickly on housing, healthcare and treatment in post-COVID19 period


An alliance of three groups working with those who are homeless and/or use drugs has welcomed aspects of the new Programme for Government, particularly the measures aimed at tackling drug misuse but has said that as the country emerges from lockdown, measures around housing, healthcare and treatment capacity must be implemented quickly. Merchants Quay Ireland, Coolmine and Depaul jointly published Dealing with COVID-19 and Beyond in order to raise the issue as the new Government prepares to take office.

Amongst the key findings in the report are:


  • For people who use drugs, since the pandemic new, reconfigured services and reduced residential detox and treatment beds are having a significant impact on people’s drug use and mental health. The groups are predicting an increase in polysubstance use with a prevalence of alcohol and non-prescribed medication.


  • For people who are homeless, there was a move away from provision of communal temporary accommodation to more self-contained settings such as hotels and tourist apartments. This was a vital step in combatting the spread of the virus amongst such groups.


  • Thanks to steps taken at the start of the pandemic, the majority of people experiencing homelessness now have accommodation and access to healthcare, including medications and treatment while commencement on Opioid Substitution Treatment has been reduced from 12 weeks to 5 days for people experiencing homelessness and opioid dependency.


The report has identified short-, medium- and long-term policies to address the needs of those whom the groups care for. In order to protect them in the coming months, especially if a “second wave” hits, the following recommendations are made;


  • Housing

The existing accommodation arrangements put in place at the start of the emergency should remain in place, as necessary. This should include the prolonged use of hotels and the focusing of resources to support households in particular vulnerable single people until the end of this year.


  • Treatment Capacity

Those who accessed Opioid Substitute Treatment must have continued access.  Structured pathways should be created for those commenced on treatments, to access residential treatment and, aftercare and recovery-based services on exit from isolation.  We need to ensure that the finances have been put in place to deal with this immediate need are maintained for the period required to execute such an exit strategy.


  • Healthcare

A structured exit plan is required for those in cocooning facilities, so they do not return to homelessness and have access to healthcare including day services.


Paula Byrne, Chief Executive of Merchants Quay Ireland said:

“Measures contained in the new Programme for Government around reducing waiting times for opioid substitution services and recognition of the barriers women face in accessing services are to be welcomed. We provide vital, often lifesaving services for the most vulnerable people in society. As we face changed economic circumstances in the future, it is vital that the new Government continues to fund those services and invest in helping people who use drugs to recover and build lives for themselves”.


David Carroll, Chief Executive Officer of Depaul said:

It is essential that as we start to return to a “new normal” that we continue the positive steps that have been made around the health of those who are homeless and those who work in the sector. We know that there is the possibility of a “second wave” of the virus later in the year – for that reason, the existing provision of apartments and hotel rooms should continue for the rest of the year, with people moved into long-term sustainable homes as quickly as possible”.


Pauline McKeown, Chief Executive Officer of Coolmine said:

“Now is not the time, despite the pressure on the public finances that we know is there, to do anything that will impact upon those to whom we provide help. COVID-19 has, in many ways,  brought out the best in us. Let us use the lessons we have learned to provide a better future for all our citizens, including those suffering the most”.




Note to the Editors:


Merchants Quay Ireland is a leading Irish charity working with people experiencing homelessness and people who use drugs. The organisation provides services ranging from crisis and case management, healthcare services, harm reduction and family support to residential and community detox & rehabilitation, aftercare and prison-based addiction counselling.

Coolmine is a national drug and alcohol treatment centre that provides a range of quality residential, day and community-based services. Coolmine programmes are specialist supporting homeless men, pregnant women, women with young children, clients and children impacted by domestic violence and trauma, traveller community members, new community members and prisoners. Through services embedded in a continuum of care, we support clients to access treatment, stabilise, detoxify and remain drug and alcohol free.

Depaul is a leading cross-border homeless charity which supports people experiencing homelessness and those who are at risk of homelessness. Depaul provides low threshold, specialist support to the most vulnerable in our society. These include both accommodation and community-based services. Last year, across the island, Depaul helped over 4000 men women and children, including women leaving prison, people residing in direct provision, young people, people with entrenched addiction issues and people suffering from mental health difficulties. Since being established in 2002 Depaul has gone on to become a leading voice within the homeless sector and now currently provides 30 services across the island of Ireland.


To read the report, please CLICK HERE

For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, please contact:

Laura McDowell
Communications Coordinator
Merchants Quay Ireland
T: 01 531 2958
M: 086 7793 206

Twitter: @MerchantsQuayIR

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