Home > Homelessness and drug misuse: a continuing challenge for service providers.

Keane, Martin (2006) Homelessness and drug misuse: a continuing challenge for service providers. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 18, Summer 2006, pp. 8-9.

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This article reports on progress made so far on actions pertinent to the association between homelessness and substance misuse or addiction contained in the documents Homelessness: An Integrated Strategy (2000)1 and in Homeless Preventative Strategy (2002).2

The Integrated Strategy identified individuals leaving custodial and health-related institutional care (psychiatric care and care for vulnerable young people) as a group at risk of becoming homeless. Recent research in Ireland has demonstrated a strong association between drug misuse and homelessness among individuals in custody.3  On the other hand, there is a lack of Irish research on the association between drug misuse, homelessness and people with experience of institutional health-related care, despite the fact that research into the homeless population in Ireland has reported drug misuse, mental health issues and being in care as factors associated with becoming and remaining homeless.4, 5

Actions 9 and 11 of the 2000 strategy require statutory and voluntary agencies to provide a mix of suitable emergency accommodation for homeless women, couples, families and homeless persons with substance addictions, as well as high-support hostels for the latter group. The recent review of the implementation of the Integrated and Preventative Strategies.6 reports that ‘the supply, range and quality of emergency accommodation available … have increased significantly over the last five years’ (p. 31). However, while this may be the case for most of the groups included under Actions 9 and 11, there is no specific information in this review to show that emergency accommodation has been made more available or more accessible to homeless individuals engaged in drug misuse. Indeed, recent research has shown that such individuals (a) continue to experience barriers to accessing emergency accommodation and (b) are resistant to using emergency accommodation for fear of escalating their drug use.3, 7  Research by Courtney8 found that that, although there was a reduction in the number of individuals sleeping rough in the Dublin area and the number of referrals of individuals with low-support needs had decreased, there was an increase in referrals of those with multiple needs, usually involving substance abuse and physical or mental health problems, which can result in chaotic or challenging behaviour. The lack of explicit policies on dealing with drug users and drug use among providers of homeless services is primarily responsible for these issues of accessibility to emergency accommodation,7 with many services operating a policy of excluding active drug users. The review acknowledges that dedicated hostels in the form of night shelters have been introduced in the Dublin area, primarily targeting the needs of individuals suffering alcohol addiction. But the review does not make explicit the availability or accessibility of these hostels for individuals engaged in drug misuse.

An area where there has been welcome progress is the accommodation needs of ex-offenders. The Homeless Preventative Strategy, which developed from Action I in the Integrated Strategy, identified ex-offenders as being at risk of homelessness on leaving institutional custodial care. The review of the implementation of both strategies6 reports that a specialist unit, the Homeless Offenders Strategy Team (HOST), has been established by the Probation and Welfare Service (PWS) to assist ex-offenders find accommodation. In addition, the Prison Service and the PWS are engaged in building and operating transitional housing units for ex-offenders; 34 such places have been developed. This is a welcome development, as research consistently shows that being homeless on release from custodial institutions exposes individuals to a high risk of relapsing into drug use.9, 10

As part of the review of the homeless strategies 33 homeless service users were interviewed between March and May 2005. Family breakdown and associated problems of alcohol and substance abuse were cited as the primary reasons for becoming homeless in the first instance. Many of the interviewees reported that they had relapsed when accommodated in homeless hostels after having been drug or alcohol free for a considerable period of time. A number of interviewees reported that they had to wait for six to nine months to join a methadone programme. This research again emphasises the important task facing statutory and voluntary service providers in tackling the strong association between drug misuse and homelessness. Despite the measures progressed so far as outlined in the strategies, it would appear that major gaps in service provision remain, particularly in relation to individuals with multiple needs, including active drug users. 

1. Department of the Environment and Local Government (2000) Homelessness: An Integrated Strategy.  Dublin: Department of the Environment and Local Government.

2. Departments of Education, Environment, and Health and Children (2002) Homeless Preventative Strategy. Dublin: Stationery Office. 

3. Seymour M and Costello L (2005) A study of the number, profile and progression routes of homeless people before the court and in custody. Dublin: Probation and Welfare Service.

4. Smith M, McGee H and Shannon W (2001) One hundred homeless women: health status and health service use of homeless women and their children in Dublin. Dublin: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Children’s Research Centre, Trinity College Dublin.

5. Feeney A, McGee H, Holohan T and Shannon W (2000) The health of hostel-dwelling men in Dublin: perceived health status, lifestyle and health care utilisation of homeless men in south inner city Dublin hostels. Dublin: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Eastern Health Board.

6. Fitzpatrick Associates Economic Consultants (2006) Review of the implementation of the government’s Integrated and Preventative Homeless Strategies. Report submitted by to the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal. Dublin: Stationery Office.

7. Lawless M and Corr C (2005) Drug use among the homeless population in Ireland. Dublin: Merchants Quay Ireland.

8. Courtney R (2005) Review of temporary accommodation. Dublin: Homeless Agency.

9. Hickey C (2002) Crime and homelessness. Dublin: Focus Ireland and PACE.

 10. O’Loingsigh G (2004) Getting out, staying out: the experiences of prisoners upon release. Dublin: Community Technical Aid.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 18, Summer 2006
April 2006
Page Range
pp. 8-9
Health Research Board
Issue 18, Summer 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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