Homeless day services ‘barely managing’ amid surge in numbers needing support

Charities seeing big increase in demand for food, sleeping bags, showers and other services

Homeless day services are “barely managing” with increased demand as they attempt to assist more 1,600 international protection applicants living without State-provided accommodation.

Upon arrival to Ireland, applicants who are not accommodated, largely men, are advised of several services they can attend to seek food, sleeping bags, tents and showers.

As of Friday, there were 1,620 international protection applicants without accommodation. Some 2,271 men have sought asylum since the International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) announced it was facing a “severe shortage” of beds in early December.

Aubrey McCarthy, chair of Tiglin at the Lighthouse, said he never foresaw demand for its services reaching current levels when he set up the charity in 2008. He said it is now operating in a “different universe” and facing a “sort of a perfect storm”.


Although a more co-ordinated approach with the Department of Integration has been put in place, and people fasting during Ramadan eased daytime pressures over the last month, he said the charity remains “crazy busy”.

Mr McCarthy said The Lighthouse is now feeding 500 people each day, compared with about 80 before last summer. He said some 60 per cent of those accessing the charity’s services are international protection applicants, many of whom are staying in tents on Dublin’s Mount Street, close to the IPAS office.

He said the most common request from international protection applicants was for new sleeping bags, due to them quickly becoming unusable during wet weather. “What we’re doing now is drying their sleeping bags at night time on the doors in the basement.”

For much of the last 18 months, the Lighthouse paid for sleeping bags and other essentials for international protection applicants without any reimbursement or support. It spent €2,000 on sleeping bags in just one week last month, Mr McCarthy said.

“After nearly two years, IPAS are now on board,” he said, describing increased co-ordination in the approach to the issue of homeless international protection applicants as a “total game-changer”. As of last month, he said, associated costs are being reimbursed.

“I think they [IPAS] were as shocked as we were,” he said.

Kate Fitzsimons, head of operations at the Mendicity Institution, a charity providing food and day service for people experiencing homelessness, said the demand since December has been “overwhelming”.

It has had to hire two further staff members and prolong working hours to cope with demand, she said.

Although the homeless charity has seating for 70 people, it is currently serving up to 150 each day.

“We’re managing, but barely, and I can only see it getting worse,” Ms Fitzsimons said.

She said that since December “our numbers doubled nearly” and that some 60 per cent of service users are international protection applicants, a majority of whom are “downtrodden and freezing”.

“They’re coming from places of conflict and some of them are just crying, it’s sad to see,” she said.

In addition to providing breakfasts and lunches, the charity arranges weekly GP care and shower services, but with just one shower available, this offering is regularly overwhelmed.

“You think it can’t get worse but then it does,” she said.

Although commending the Department of Integration for increasing the support it provides, Ms Fitzsimons said “more could be done”.

Brian Friel, chief executive of the Capuchin Day Centre, said demand for what the homeless charity’s provides increased by 20 per cent last year. It is serving about 400 breakfasts and up to 700 lunches each day while about 40 people use the showers each morning.

The demand for tents and sleeping bags picked up significantly during January and February, he said.

“The demand fluctuates, but the trend is fairly clear,” he said. “We’ve always stepped up to try to ensure that whatever demand presents, we meet it.”

A spokesman for the Department of Integration said it is in regular contact with service providers “and has ensured sufficient resources are in place to meet the increased demands”.