An array of services available to those in need
“Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) is a national voluntary organisation that helps people who are homeless and those caught in addiction. We provide frontline services, practical supports, pathways towards recovery and innovative responses to the issues of drug use and homelessness in Ireland.” – MQI.
The Merchants Quay Project was setup in 1989 with just two rooms and a drop-in centre. It was not until 2001, that the homeless and drugs services operating at Merchants Quay, were brought together under one management structure and became MQI.
With over 63,000 cases presented for problem drug use in Ireland between 2011 and 2017 according to The Health Research Board, the staff at MQI are certainly kept busy. MQI are one of the very small few organisations that offer a needle exchange service to drug users that inject.
Christine Leddy is the manager at MQI and advised me that the problems of homelessness and drug addiction will not simply go away on their own. “To make a change it needs to be managed realistically. I never see a decrease in drug addiction or homelessness, it is either stable or on the rise.”
The needle exchange programme was setup to provide clean needles in exchange for contaminated needles. The goal here is to reduce the negative effects of drug use, if the level of drug use itself cannot be reduced.
Before anyone is provided with fresh needles, they must meet with a staff member from MQI for a briefing. During this period people are made aware about the dangers of injecting and offered pathways to rehabilitation.
This service prevents or at least decreases diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis from spreading. Before needle exchange programmes were in place, more than 60% of injecting drug users were HIV positive, according to The National Drugs Strategy Team. Figures on HIV Ireland show that today, only 5% of new diagnoses are among those who inject.
Other services provided by MQI include a drop-in service for homeless people. This service offers both breakfast and lunch, six days a week, to our friends on the street. Some addicts that attend MQI have the security of a safe environment to go home too, but for those caught in the clasp of homelessness, they cannot afford that luxury. Christine explained to me about a service they offer called The Night Café.
“After the death of Jonathan Corrie in December 2014 we opened our doors to try and prevent more deaths on the streets. We offer what we can. We provide yoga mats and a pillow so people can sleep on the floor. They can also avail of counselling on addiction, take a warm shower or just have a hot cup of tea”. This service provides emergency accommodation for those with no access to a bed for the night. MQI provided statistics which show that this service was attended by over 2000 people in 2016.
Jonathan Corrie was a homeless man who died sleeping in a doorway just 50 yards from Leinster House. In December 2014 his death sparked outrage in Dublin as it showed the severity of the homelessness crisis and how it is only increasing.
According to Focus Ireland, over 10,000 people were homeless in Ireland within the month of August 2019. The Night Cafe was opened as a temporary solution to what seems to be a permanent problem. The café was setup with the intention of helping rough sleepers over the Christmas period, but it is 5 years later, and The Night Café is still in full operation.
A young girl named *Rebecca, explained how life can be spending nights on the streets. “I sleep in a tent and its cold, but it’s better than sharing a room with people I don’t know. Sometimes I would have to share with men and women, but you don’t know if the men are there because their homeless, addicted to drugs or if they’ve been kicked out of their community because they’ve raped someone. It’s a scary place and especially if you’re female its even scarier.”
The lifestyle of drugs and homelessness often overlap. It is a common misconception that people who sleep on the streets are homeless because of drugs. Christine said “We have clients who willingly choose to sleep in tents and sleeping bags because they do not want to share a room with drug users. It can be hard for these people to avoid and sometimes that means turning down a bed to stay away from it”.
I met with *Marie who was an addict for many years. *Marie’s introduction to crack cocaine and heroin came from a man she was seeing at the time. *Marie advised me that the feeling of withdrawals from these drugs is unbearable. Her then partner at the time convinced *Marie that the only way to end her suffering would be if they got more drugs. This was where the cycle of addiction began for Marie and where she became a shell of the woman she once was.
When I asked *Marie about the services that organisations such as MQI provide she said “ You never think you will be that person, until all of a sudden you are that person; and you never think you will need them services, until you really do need them.” *Marie got help through MQI and has now been clean for 12 years. *Marie strongly emphasised that without the people who provide these services, she may have been dead by now.
MQI also offer a whole other range of services to people in need. They provide doctors, nurses, dentists, counsellors and ever chiropodists. Christine finished off by saying, that if you had a family member who was struggling, this is the service you would want for them.
* The names in this story have been changed to protect the anonymity of those interviewed