Over 73,000 free meals provided by charity
HOMELESS CHARITY Merchants Quay Ireland provided more than 73,000 meals to people last year, up from 64,000 in 2010.
The 14 per cent increase was attributable to the “devastating effects of the economic downturn” and was 1980s history repeating itself, said the charity’s chief executive, Tony Geoghegan.
The growth in demand, outlined in its annual report which is released today, followed an increase of 26 per cent in meals provided between 2009 and 2010.
Mr Geoghegan said figures for 2012 would show further growth.
Demand for the charity’s free GP service also increased in 2011 by more than 20 per cent from 874 to more than 1,150.
The charity works with homeless people and drug users in Dublin and the midlands. It provides services including day support, educational and vocational training as well as residential treatment, detoxification and prison counselling.
Meals are served at the charity’s new facility in what was the Riverbank Theatre on Merchants Quay in Dublin city centre. Evening meals are also served at a centre in nearby John’s Lane, shared with Focus Ireland.
The charity’s old tearooms, where food had been served to homeless people since 1969, were closed in July. The new centre, which can feed a larger number of people at any one time, brings all of the charity’s frontline services under one roof.
The report shows the numbers of people accessing the charity’s needle exchange fell slightly in 2011, from more than 4,300 in 2010 to 4,050. The numbers of new clients involved also dropped from 575 to almost 500.
There was an increase in demand for the Merchants Quay programmes outside the capital, with the midlands drug services recording 4,000 one-to-one interventions.
The charity’s two rehabilitation centres, at High Park in Drumcondra and St Francis Farm, Tullow, Co Carlow, were also in demand.
At both centres an increase in the number of clients seeking admission was experienced; and both had waiting lists.
There was also growth in the numbers of people attending the evening service which began in 2010. It was established, with Focus Ireland, to offer an evening meal, crisis support and advice and information to homeless people. Last year, the service had an average of 115 clients every evening.
Mr Geoghegan said the figures were evidence of the ongoing impact of the recession and “the Government’s austerity measures aimed on the most vulnerable”.
“As in the 1980s, where high levels of unemployment fed the drugs crisis and rising poverty led to higher levels of homelessness, we are seeing history repeat itself,” he said.
He also said the growth in demand for homeless services showed no sign of abating, while the charity’s drugs services nationally were “stretched to capacity as the drugs crisis grows across the country”.
In times of economic crisis the weakest and most vulnerable suffer most, he added.
“We as a society need to learn from past mistakes and address these interlinked crises and invest in long-term solutions for the benefit of the individual, their families and society as a whole.”
ANNUAL REPORT: VITAL STATISTICS
73,000: the number of free meals provided to people in need.
4,051: the number of people who used the Dublin city-centre needle exchange service.
4,000: the number of consultations at the Midlands drug service.
3,300: the number of free consultations provided with nurses and GPs.
492: the number of new clients using needle exchange.
21 per cent: the increase in demand for GP visits.