Pubdate: Fri, 17 Dec 1999
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 1999 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Kitty Holland


Special "consumption rooms", where homeless drug-users could use and store
drug equipment should by provided in hostels, the director of the largest
voluntary drug-counselling service in the State has said.

Mr Tony Geoghegan, director of the Merchant's Quay Project, said many
homeless drug-users were excluded from emergency hostel accommodation and
were, as a result, more likely to be engaged in high-risk drug use.

Speaking at the publication of 'Wherever I Lay My Hat, A Study of Out of
Home Drug Users in Dublin' yesterday, he said the majority of homeless
clients interviewed in the study were involved in dangerous drug use.

"They often shared equipment with other intravenous drug users in unhygienic
and unsafe conditions, leaving themselves vulnerable to overdose and
infection," he said. "Those who were sleeping rough were at the greatest
risk, both to themselves in terms of their physical well-being, and to the
wider community in terms of the public health risks associated with
discarded needles.

"Those staying in hostels were not as likely to share, as they often used
more safely in the secrecy of their own rooms." Emergency accommodation for
drug-users should have facilities for the safe use and storage of injecting
equipment, including sinks, bleach and lockers, he added.

"In addition, the provision of sharps-bins in hostels for safe disposal of
injecting equipment would be welcomed." The report also recommended the
distribution of injecting equipment, sterile swabs and water to drug-users
sleeping rough who would otherwise have very limited access to such
equipment. "In addition," it said, "it is vital that [outreach] workers
carry emergency injecting packs with them." It recommends that the Eastern
Health Board mobile methadone clinic be made available to homeless
drug-users who cannot access a methadone programme because they don't have a
fixed address. For the study, 75 per cent (190) of the clients presenting at
the Merchants Quay Project between February 8th and 12th this year were
asked to complete questionnaires.

Some 63 per cent, 120, were found to be homeless while just 7 per cent
reported they had never experienced being homeless. Homelessness was defined
as staying in a hostel, staying in a B&B, staying with friends or relatives,
staying in a squat or sleeping rough. Some 66 per cent said their drug use
had changed since they became homeless. They said they used more frequently,
while 49 per cent said they shared injecting equipment, 16 per cent that
they had recently lent their injecting equipment and 24 per cent that they
recently borrowed injecting equipment.

A spokeswoman for the Eastern Health Board said the board, with Dublin
Corporation, was seeking premises to open a high support hostel for homeless
drugusers, although she stressed it was not envisaged that drug use on the
premises would be facilitated.

Some pounds 5 million was set aside in the Budget to provide such hostel
facilities, as well as facilities for homeless people with alcohol addiction
problems, in Dublin over the next two years.

Wherever I Lay My Hat was commissioned by the Franciscan Social Justice
Initiatives, with the support of the Poverty, Drug Use and Policy Programme
run by the Combat Poverty Agency.
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