Efforts to support homeless and elderly scaled up as temperatures dip below zero

In Galway, charities and the local authority are working together to ensure there are beds for people needing shelter from the elements

Met Éireann has warned of very cold conditions over the coming days with “black ice and patches of freezing fog” expected in some parts, leading to “hazardous travel conditions”.

Sub-zero temperatures are expected at night in most areas, with temperatures by day hovering close to zero. Some hail, sleet or snow showers are also expected.

AA Roadwatch advised drivers that conditions can be “much more challenging” during colder weather. In icy conditions, it can take “ten times longer” to stop a vehicle, “meaning it’s essential to give yourself extra space around other road users”, it said.

Drivers should “be extra vigilant” and “treat every road as if it is frozen” due to black ice being difficult to spot, AA said.


There is added concern for vulnerable people, including older people living alone or people who are homeless, during the cold snap, and a number of charities are scaling up supports.

In Galway, a cold weather response plan has been in place since the start of last month, with the idea of freeing up spaces in short-term emergency accommodation.

Cope Galway – a provider of services to homeless people, older people and those experiencing domestic violence – and Galway City Council are working together on the plan.

“Galway is a tourist destination, and that impacts on it,” said Martin O’Connor, assistant chief executive with Cope, “and I guess other factors also. There’s an increased portion of tourist accommodation in use as part of the Ukrainian refugee response and also as part of the wider response in terms of asylum seeker accommodation.

“To be honest with you, it is really challenging because the level of demand has continued to increase. So as the weeks and months of the winter go on, we were planning to grow that further, but it isn’t unfortunately, at this point, keeping pace with it.”

The response plan involves the provision of camp beds in a community centre for the duration of the weather warnings and making transport to these locations available to those who need it. O’Connor said the initiative targets single people who would otherwise be sleeping out, but Cope also provides accommodation for families in need.

“With the weather getting worse, the big concern is that anybody who is rough sleeping has a higher risk of hypothermia and they are at far greater risk because the weather and the elements obviously places them at risk,” he said. “But in terms of families, there’s never a situation or rarely a situation where families are going to be without a place to stay, although, as I say, it is challenging this winter also.”

Karen Feeney, head of client services at Galway Simon Community, said finding beds and facilities to host vulnerable people is more difficult than last year. “Nothing makes work more challenging in homeless services, [than a cold spell], so if there is one coming, I really hope it’s short and maybe not as bad as we fear.”

Seán Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, which provides support to older people, said the forecast was a worry, particularly at a time of soaring energy costs, because “after a cold snap, the facts show that the mortality rate rises, not hugely, but it does rise”.

“As the weather changes, the numbers coming to us have been rising in the last couple of weeks and we are trying to get the message across that you have to stay warm to stay well, but a lot of people are quite concerned,” he said.

One woman who avails of Alone’s services explained that if she had not received the first of three €200 Government energy credits, she would not have turned the heating on due to the expense. She said she and her husband go to bed earlier than they would normally because their house is so cold and they rely on their electric blanket to stay warm.

She said she has not told her children of their struggles so as not to burden them “when they’ve got houses and mortgages of their own” to pay for.

“You’d want them to think that you’re doing okay, like you always did,” she said. “You wouldn’t tell them you were lonely, and you wouldn’t tell them that you’re cold, wouldn’t tell them that ever. It’d be worse for them knowing that. Why would you upset them?”

Met Éireann is expecting sub-zero conditions at night until at least Sunday. Maximum temperatures of just 0 to 3 degrees are forecast for Thursday, falling as low as -5 at night. Similar highs and lows are predicted from Friday through to Sunday.

The UK Met Office has issued a warning for ice in parts of Northern Ireland including Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry. The warning is in place from Wednesday evening until Thursday evening.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times