Addiction and substance abuse primary reason for homelessness, says charity

Increased demand for charity’s detox service causes waiting times to almost double

More than 70 per cent of the Dublin Simon Community’s detox clients last year cited addiction and substance abuse as the primary reason for becoming homeless.

The increase in demand for the charity’s detox service caused waiting times to almost double from 29 days in 2018 to 76 days in 2020.

The organisation’s annual review 2020, which was published on Thursday, said the average age of clients in residential detox services has dropped from 49 to 44 over the last five years.

Fifty-four per cent of all people in Dublin Simon emergency accommodation in 2020 have been homeless for over three years, with 42 per cent for more than five years.


Dublin Simon Community provided services to 7,617 people in Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Meath, Louth, Cavan and Monaghan last year.

Sam McGuinness, chief executive, said the homeless population is “living through the worst crisis we could ever have imagined”.

“Though I am heartened by some of the successes that we have delivered, there are people who are struggling to rebuild their lives because they are grappling with addiction, waiting longer to access alcohol and other drug detox services and reaching rock-bottom at a younger age than ever before,” he said.

“Many of these people spend five years or more in emergency accommodation and are desperate to exit homelessness.


“The human toll is clear in the growth of demand for counselling and out-of-hours crisis support, with a total of 3,875 interventions by Dublin Simon Community’s Sure Steps Counselling team in both day and out-of-hours services.

“In 2020, we worked with 7,617 adults and children and have achieved some very positive results. Almost 2,900 adults and children were supported by our tenancy sustainment teams, this was facilitated by increased availability of accommodation freed up within the rental market due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

There was a 23 per cent increase in demand for the charity’s treatment and primary care services, with 938 individuals accessing the services in 2020. These included residential detox, addiction recovery and aftercare services, blood-borne virus services and counselling.

The charity’s residential intermediate care facility, Step-Up-Step-Down, marked its second full year of operation last year in partnership with Safetynet Primary Care and the HSE.

The service supported acute hospitals by providing up to 20 medical beds at Usher’s Island, freeing up public hospital beds for use by Covid-19 patients during the pandemic.


Majella Darcy, head of clinical governance and therapeutic services at Dublin Simon Community, said more health supports are needed for those experiencing homelessness.

“When the pandemic began, we were facing a situation where we knew that the most prevalent reason for admission to our Step-Up Step-Down unit in the previous year was a respiratory condition. This meant that the homeless population were at exceptionally high risk of infection and poor outcome,” she said.

“We moved quickly to adapt the way we delivered services, ensuring the safety of our vulnerable clients and frontline healthcare staff.

“We have had an enormous success in keeping people safe during this Covid crisis but we need to ensure that we can meet the demand for addiction treatment, in particular drug stabilisation and mental health supports that are so urgently needed at this time.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times