Penny Dinners head warns of consequences of Covid-19 pandemic on Cork homeless community

Penny Dinners head warns of consequences of Covid-19 pandemic on Cork homeless community
Caitriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners.Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

A SPATE of deaths among Cork's homeless community during lockdown has sparked a fresh call for Government action from the head of one local charity.

Caitríona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners said they have reopened their addiction meetings to those struggling following the loss of a number of service users in recent weeks.

However, she said that it will be some time before normal service can resume at the soup kitchen facility. The charity is currently operating through a take-away and delivery system. Nonetheless, Caitríona said that opening the facility in a physical sense is bittersweet, given the number of service users they lost in devastating circumstances during the height of the pandemic.

"There were a lot of deaths," she said. "People on the streets have mental health issues too but it's so much harder when there are fewer places to walk into to access help."

She appealed to the Government to act quickly,

"There is a lack of structure around housing people who are homeless," she said. 

"It's not happening fast enough. They are housing some but there is a roll-over, a never-ending wheel."

A rougher sleeper in Cork city.
A rougher sleeper in Cork city.

Ms Twomey continued: "Unless the minister talks about increasing the 10 percent of social housing that has to be applied to anyone building homes to 20 percent to include affordable housing I can't see much change coming round the corner. The Government needs to move quickly."

She said that while service users escaped Covid-19, the emotional effects of the pandemic proved too much.

"They were bewildered and didn't know what was happening," she explained. 

"On top of that, they had to deal with existing mental health issues that Covid-19 escalated to a different level. The fear factor that brought with it was overwhelming."

So many things happened after that were a direct result of mental health issues. Being on the street was particularly difficult for anyone rough sleeping through the virus. From being out each night we saw the isolation. We saw the desolation. We saw the pain."

Caitríona expressed her concerns for a number of service users who she is desperately trying to help through the pandemic.

"It's too early to predict the scale of the impact this will have in the future," she said. 

"By looking at some people we're not sure how they are going to come out of this. You have to wonder what the recovery period could be for something we're not out of yet. The fear factor is still there and will continue for some time. 

"People are wondering about a second wave. Mental health is being stretched beyond its means. When you lose someone you know under these circumstances you have the hurt of that, you have the pain of that, but you also have the pain of their families, whom this is so hard for. There are no words to describe the pain of losing someone you love."

She urged anyone suffering with addictions to attend the Cork Penny Dinners addictions meeting, an initiative set up to help save lives.

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