‘Why was I putting my life at risk?’ Exclusions from Covid bonus causing upset

Homeless charities express ‘huge disappointment’ that their workers are excluded

Organisations working with homeless people are appealing to the Government to extend the €1,000 Covid recognition payment to their front-line workers, saying they risked their lives and health during the pandemic just as HSE and nursing-home workers did.

Dublin Simon, Merchants Quay Ireland, Crosscare, Depaul and Focus Ireland are among charities expressing "huge disappointment" that their "coalface" workers remain excluded from the payment.

The “pandemic special recognition payment”, announced in January, is a tax-free lump sum payable to front-line healthcare workers who were “working in Covid-19 healthcare environments”.

Catherine Kenny, chairwoman of the Dublin Homeless Network, said its members were "operating relentlessly as healthcare settings" having been "directed" by the HSE and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to remain open.

As well as accommodating thousands of homeless people, many of whom were cocooning, their nursing staff were undertaking Covid testing and administering vaccines, while others provided counselling, sanitation and needle and crack-pipe exchanges.

Mortality rate

In a letter to the Ministers for health, housing, public expenditure and employment, dated January 28th – when details of the payment were being drawn up – Ms Kenny said the work of front-line homelessness staff kept the mortality rate among the homeless to a minimum.

Heather Howell is manager of the 51-bed Carman's Hall emergency accommodation in Dublin's south inner city, provided by Dublin Simon. It accommodated 32 homeless people during the pandemic.

In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin dated March 31st, she asks: “Why was I putting my life at risk here? What makes my sacrifices different?

“For nearly a month in the summer of 2020, myself and others did not see our families directly,” she says.

Her letter is co-signed by Sam McGuinness, Dublin Simon chief executive.

Merchants Quay Ireland, supporting the call for the Covid recognition payment, said: “The commitment of our staff in supporting the most vulnerable in our society, despite the risk to themselves, ensured the wellbeing of those who depend on our services.”

In a statement the Department of Health said the Government was "mindful of other workers who played their own part during this difficult period in sustaining other services". It said that there would be a new permanent public holiday established to mark Imbolc/St Brigid's Day.