With over 10,000 people in Ireland in temporary accommodation, the ongoing homelessness crisis is one that is only being exasperated by the current Covid-19 situation.
The pandemic presents a huge challenge for organisations like Depaul, a cross-border charity that works with people experiencing homelessness or those at risk of homelessness. Depaul worked with over 4,300 people in 2018 alone and it provides 30 accommodation and community-based services in locations across the island.
One of the current challenges is to maintain services, especially in shared accommodation centres, but the other priority is making sure that the homelessness crisis is not worsened by the current situation. Close to 400,000 people have already applied for the newly-introduced Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payments and measures to protect renters have been welcomed by Depaul.
“It’s really welcome that the government have taken the measures that they have to make sure that people can stay within their homes in this time of crisis and emergency,” says David Carroll, CEO of Depaul.
“I think the big challenge for us following this crisis is how we maintain the momentum of what we’ve done. We really welcome that the government have put in place specific measures such as a rent freeze and no evictions.
“We welcome a furtherance of those sort of measures after the emergency is over and obviously there is going to be continued help needed for people to get back on their feet as well, and get back into employment.”
Depaul not only helps to prevent people from falling into homelessness but is also involved in providing much needed accommodation to help people who find themselves without a home.
Depaul is calling for frontline staff working with homeless people to be prioritised for testing along with healthcare workers. Keeping its staff and users safe and healthy is a priority but so is keeping its vital services open and available.
“We have 16 people out with symptoms at the moment within our staff,” explains David. “If they could get those tests done quickly, and the vast majority of tests that are being done are coming back negative, we could get them back to work. Our big focus at the moment is what efforts can we make in order to keep our services open.”
It has already adapted its community-based services to provide phone and online support rather than face-to-face services. Making its accommodation-based services safe for users is a challenge but Depaul has implemented government and HSE recommendations wherever possible with the co-operation of its staff and users.
Its accommodation-based services are introducing social distancing and best practices as much as it can in all of its hostels.
“We have 16 accommodation-based services which provide 571 bed spaces across the island, 416 of which are in Dublin,” adds David.
“If our accommodation-based services go down for whatever reason, that will leave an awful lot of individuals vulnerable.”
High-risk users have been identified and Depaul has acquired self-contained accommodation to house them. It has just established a 100-bed unit so that those with underlying health issues can be cocooned in a safe environment. Many of their users are in the high-risk category.
“Within the homeless population we have a sizeable chunk of people who have those underlying health issues and they need to be protected and supported to get through this crisis.”
The homeless crisis might have been overshadowed by the recent pandemic but it remains an ongoing concern on these shores that could yet be exasperated by the current crisis. The major cause of homelessness in Ireland is family breakdown, with underlying factors such as mental health issues or drug and alcohol abuse often a part of the problem.
In recent years, tenancy breakdowns due to financial issues or an inability to pay rent have been increasing.
“We know of the huge difficulties within the private rental sector. People have not been able to maintain an affordable roof over their heads and have ended up in homelessness because of that as well.”
While much of the focus on homelessness has understandably been around rehoming families, David points out that there needs to be suitable accommodation provided for single people, with over 3500 single people within the homeless population, and a focus on addressing the wider housing crisis.
“Although we’re all focused on the Covid-19 crisis, there needs to be a renewed effort after the crisis is over to be able to deal with the underlying issues we have in the country.”
Depaul are one of the organisations that are involved in Crisis Cover, a cross-border initiative that’s asking the public to volunteer for work within the homeless sector at this time of need. Similar to the appeal that the health service made to attract clinical staff and health workers, it is designed to deal with the added strain on resources caused by Covid-19.
“If anyone is interested in working at this time to keep homeless services open, they’d be very, very welcome,” says David.
Alternatively, the public can get involved by donating to Depaul to cover additional expenses like the procurement of personal protection equipment, sanitisers and other necessities.
“The public are a huge support to us and even in this moment in time, they can help us and we would use any kind of donations in a really positive way to deal with this crisis.”
To make a donation to Depaul or to find out more about what it does, check out the website.