UL journalism student Katie O’Donovan examines how Limerick’s homelessness services have adapted to the challenges they have faced as a result of Covid-19.
Limerick’s homeless services are dealing with an increase in demand since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite many services having to change how they operate to meet Government guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19, services are seeing more people turn up at their doors looking for support.
Manager of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s (SVP) Limerick city drop-in centre, Tom Flynn, said they are seeing a significant rise in numbers presenting to their service since the start of the pandemic.
“Prior to the pandemic we had in the region of 80 [people] coming each day for services.
“But the numbers went up above 100 and then went up to 150 and sometimes we reached 200,” Mr. Flynn said.
This is echoed by the Head of Communications and Policy at NOVAS, Una Byrnes, who says that they have also seen an increase in the number of people presenting for assistance.
“We have seen an increase in demand, we definitely have noticed more single individuals seeking support.
“We do have waiting lists for some of our services in the city, so probably more people are seeking support” said Ms. Byrnes.
There are a few reasons for this increase in demand said both Mr. Flynn and Ms. Byrnes.
Una Byrnes said that people’s support systems would have changed on account of the pandemic and this would have an impact on the numbers seeking help.
“[For] Families living in emergency accommodation, a lot of their support networks like extended family and friends, they have been paused.
“They can’t go into houses in the same way that they might go over to people for dinner or do laundry,” Ms. Byrnes said.
Because of this change, people would be looking to homeless services for help in these areas.
Due to the restrictions put in place by the Government, homeless services have had to change how they offer their services.
Service users at SVP’s drop-in centre were not able to access the centre as they once did, apart from in some very limited circumstances.
Tom Flynn said: “The only ones that we could allow in with restriction were the street homeless who desperately need a shower and a change of clothes.
“We set up a station at the entrance to the centre where we gave out services to people who came along,” Mr. Flynn continued.
Despite the pandemic, service users are not more reluctant to access services with both charities saying that people feel safe with the measures that have been put in place.
Both NOVAS and SVP have put infection control measures in place such as implementing social distancing, promoting cough etiquette and facilitating hand washing.
Tom Flynn said: “The numbers speak for themselves that they are coming and they’re confident that the regimen that we have in place is safe.”
Apart from the impact that Covid-19 has had on physical health, it has also had very real impacts on mental health, particularly to those who are homeless according to Una Byrnes.
“Homeless people by their nature are very often isolated anyway by being homeless.
“Many of the normal support structures that people would have in place with their key workers and with external agencies were paused during the pandemic and even the interactions they have with each other have changed due to the pandemic.
“It has been a challenge for people. It certainly has been difficult and has in some cases made their mental health difficulties more difficult,” Ms. Byrnes said.