Dr Austin O'Carroll is a big fan of art. The GP, who is leading the new Dublin Homeless Covid-19 Response team, used to work in a clinic in the north inner-city. Things were stolen all the time. He once walked in on two people trying to take out a fireplace with a pickaxe. Against the advice of everyone, he put up art in the clinic. The theft stopped.
"I saw that as proof that if you give people the respect they deserve, they will respond," Dr O'Carroll said.
Fortunately for him, the Grangegorman Primary Care Centre is filled with art. Two weeks ago, the second floor of the centre was turned into a new homeless Covid-19 response unit.
The team of nine staff come from the HSE social inclusion unit, Dublin City Council (DCC) and homeless agencies. The HSE predicted that if it did not intervene to protect homeless people from Covid-19, a lot more people would die.
"This is a success story," Dr O'Carroll said.
DCC took advantage of the sudden collapse in tourism, and started to rent empty Airbnbs and hotels at more reasonable rates.
Dr O'Carroll's team set up a points-based system to find the sickest and most at risk homeless people.
For example: anyone aged between 40 and 50 gets one point, while those over 70 get four. Someone who is HIV-positive gets two points, anyone who is immuno-suppressed gets four. Within 10 days, they had "cocooned" anyone who had three points or more, or two points with a particular risk, in their own accommodation.
SafetyNet, a healthcare charity that Dr O'Carroll founded in 2005, is testing rough sleepers for Covid-19. Those who test positive are given accommodation in which they can self-isolate.
The sudden extra accommodation helped ease overcrowding in hostels. Homeless people now have better, more secure accommodation. Dr O'Carroll said the number of rough sleepers had been halved.
The knock-on effect was almost instant. Homeless people who used to wait between six and 12 weeks for addiction services are now being put on methadone within three days.
Homeless people normally account for 10pc of admissions to emergency departments (EDs), despite making up only 0.5pc of the population. Now, both St James's and the Mater have said the number of homeless people coming to their EDs had plummeted.
He also predicts the current rent freeze could help reduce the number of people who become homeless.
Dr O'Carroll said Covid-19 was devastating and not a positive story. But it had, by accident, turned the city into a massive experiment in housing first. "So, now we know we can solve homelessness," he said. "When this is over, the worst thing that could happen would be that it goes back to the way it was."
He added that the tourism industry was very important, but there was no way to solve homelessness when the market was left alone.
"Ultimately, we valued Airbnb and tourism higher than services for homelessness. That is, as a society, what we have done through our policies," Dr O'Carroll said.
"The market sets you up in competition with the tourist industry, because the market values the thing with the most economic power. The people who won't be able to compete in that market are the homeless and the vulnerable. We needed the market to collapse and disappear for us to be able to do something."
The rate of Covid-19 infection among homeless people has been lower than expected. Dr O'Carroll was worried the homeless would be the most likely to die, "because they have the worst health".
Homeless people have shorter life expectancy, and higher levels of chronic lung disease, Hepatitis C, HIV and Hepatitis B. Serious drug addiction pervades the homeless population. One in two suffer from depression.
Homeless people are also bad at using health services, which Dr O'Carroll said were "designed for housed people". Just that morning, he saw a homeless patient who had clearly been walking around with a clot for two weeks. He sees a lot of mental and physical conditions that have been left to deteriorate for a very long time. Now, he said, the atmosphere in the homeless clinics was "amazing".
"People were much happier," he said, adding there was a deep gratitude from homeless people who recognised how valued and protected they were by the Covid-19 response team.
Staff on Dr O'Carroll's team know some of the patients are suspected of having Covid-19, but they are still treating them.
"They're terrified, and they're still going in," he said. He can't praise his team enough.
"The staff. The courage and the commitment to human values," he said, his eyes getting a little red. "I become emotional even saying it."
He also had to calculate how high the risk of Covid-19 would be to his own family.
"I had to manage my fear," he said. "But... I do love it on the frontline, because this is why we did medicine. You did it to make a difference."