Merchants holds ‘key’ to homelessness

Bernie O'Houlihan, Stephen and Aislinn Murphy, all staff memeber at MQI-Photo by Josephine Gallagher.

Bernie Houlihan, Stephen and Aislinn Murphy, all staff members of MQI. Photo by Josephine Gallagher.

Understaffing poses a huge issue for Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) and current workers are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the growing demand, reports Josephine Gallagher.

The latest MQI annual report shows that throughout 2012 they provided over 76,500 meals for homeless people and recorded well over 8,972 supportive and advice interventions. As drug issues continue to intensify each year, the report reveals a 10% increase in their needle exchange services in 2012 compared to 2011.


On an average day 25 members of staff are required to run the main drop in centre now located on Merchants Court, including the minimum of 10 morning staff. Bernie Houlihan, a Merchants Quay full-time employee for 15 years, acknowledges that there is an increasing demand for services while operating with limited resources. She explains how the staff at times feel stretched but are reluctant to let  a client down, so they have become more reliant on volunteers to support their services.

Throughout the day MQI may have to deal with an influx of up to 200-300 people affected by homelessness. Ms Houlihan explained how training new volunteer members has become more of challenge due to further cut backs in funding. Aislinn Murphy, another staff member at MQI, said sometimes the demand for the ‘extended daily service’ (EDS) is so intense that in certain incidents the least vulnerable clients have to be turned away.

The Merchant's Quay drop in centre-Photo by MQI

The Merchant’s Quay drop in centre-Photo by MQI


Serving food all day long, the drop-in centre opens its doors from 7.30 am to 4.30 pm from Monday to Friday. However, it closes early on Sunday, at 1.30 pm.  Both Merchant’s Quay Ireland and Focus Ireland provide an extended daily service in which food and help is offered to the “most vulnerable” people from 5.30 pm to 9 pm.

Aislinn Murphy said, “It’s for those who don’t have a hostel and will more than likely be spending their night on the streets. It’s also for whether they need a needle exchange or food or a hot shower”.

In 2012 around 80-120 people used the EDS each night, estimating a total of 14,685 visits recorded for the year. Bernie Houlihan also works on the Outreach programme responsible for removing needles from the street around the Merchants Quay area, the schools and the parks. Merchants Quay Ireland drop in centre offers a huge selection of services such as health care, dentistry, showers,  a women’s room, a councillor, stabilisation programmes and much more. Many of the staff also provides advice to those seeking accommodation, welfare or pension payments. The charity is highly dependent on donations and must raise €2 million this year alone in order to continue with their vital services.

More people are affected by homelessness than ever-Photo by Josephine Gallagher

There were 94  people sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin in Apirl this year. Photo by  Josephine Gallagher

Bed in a doorway

For some who fall victim to homelessness, an arched doorway or stairway becomes your one and only home. Many could choose the alternative of sleeping in an overcrowded hostel and risk further exposure to drugs and alcohol.  These are the options they are faced with on a daily basis; a cold wet concrete bed or a potential hotspot for drugs, which would you choose?

According to the latest rough sleep count by the Dublin City Council, around 94 people slept on the streets of Dublin in April this year.

Earlier this year the Minister for Housing and Planning Jan O’ Sullivan introduced a new policy aimed at eliminating homelessness by 2016. Ms Houlihan is highly doubtful these targets will be met due to the increase of homeless people and the lack of housing and resources available to them.

“No I doubt it, like they said in 2010 that there wouldn’t be anyone else on the street. Where are they going to put them? Are they going to put them into a room and close the door?” said Bernie.

Health warning

It’s believed, following the Special Census Report on homeless persons in Ireland, that almost one third of homeless people’s health is either ‘fair’, ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’,. This stands in stark contrast to the general population where only 10% fall into those categories.

The Merchant’s Quay staff members build a bond with each of their clients throughout the years of working with them.  After spending over 14 years on the streets of Dublin, one unfortunate client recently died in the night. “He was like a son to me because I’ve worked with him for so many years. He was an amazing person and he touched hearts of so many people,” said Bernie Houlihan.

The MQI held a special ceremony, along with music for the man who died at only 32. Staff and clients all attended to pay their respects along with his family members, who were touched by the service provided.

“What the family actually said in the end was really; Bernie, you were his family,” added Ms Houlihan.

Causes of becoming homeless

There are many reasons why someone can become homeless. According to Focus Ireland, the factors are broken into categories such as ‘individual’ (i.e. behaviour and decisions) or ‘structural’ (i.e. poverty and unemployment) explanations.

Bernie agrees that there are thousands of reasons why someone can fall victim to homelessness. “It could be to do with their family background, peer pressure, hanging around with the wrong sort of crowd for the buzz and you can’t stop, you get into hassle at home or abuse.”

Thou shalt not judge!

The full time MQI employee explained how outsiders might not understand addiction fully. She asked those inexperienced with issues relating to drugs and homelessness to be mindful that these people are “some parent’s son or daughter” and that “it’s very easy to judge people before you know anything about them”.

The following video is an RTE report from September on Merchants Quay Ireland:

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