Ireland did not publish a national plan on homelessness during the initial wave of Covid-19, assemble a taskforce or set out a policy statement unlike several other countries, a new report has found.
The Simon Communities study Systems Accelerant?, published on Tuesday, is the first of three seeking to analyse the country’s response to the pandemic in the homeless community and how it affected service users.
It highlights the differences in how various countries responded, notably the creation of a homeless sector plan in England in March and clear policy aimed at getting people off the streets in several parts of Australia.
The report also said there was no detailed information on additional funding for local authorities or the HSE throughout the first wave.
However, it said, guidance circulated by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive in early March distributed “general advice about preventing the spread of Covid-19 in homeless settings and for migrants/refugees and vulnerable groups”.
This early March circular was updated several times throughout the first wave to reflect growing knowledge about the virus, it said.
Authored by Joe Finnerty and Margaret Buckley at the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork (UCC), the document noted that homeless services underwent significant change during the period, including a move towards single occupancy rooms.
Successful outcomes in relation to emergency accommodation, increased engagement with rough sleepers and innovative responses to drug use, were said to have emerged through enhanced co-operation with local authorities and the HSE.
“Clients were assessed to determine who was more vulnerable to Covid-19 and if they needed to cocoon,” explained Wayne Stanley, the Simon Communities’ head of policy.
“The isolation for clients that came with the Covid-19 crisis appears to have been really challenging for some. Covid-19 restrictions exacerbated the isolation that homelessness brings.”
The report also observed that sleeping rough, the closure of public spaces, the curtailment of “sofa surfing”, and the requirement to stay indoors in congregate settings may actually have increased the risk of infection.
Mr Finnerty said the term “systems accelerant” is a reference to the hastened implementation of principles already existing at policy level, notably the elimination of involuntary rough sleeping and a move toward the provision of independent accommodation.
“However, ongoing research is required to monitor whether the gains achieved by Simon services during Covid-19 will be maintained post-pandemic,” he said.