Building trust to help people off the streets

Building trust to help people off the streets MQI Catering co-ordinater David Kinsella explains to donors what food is provided to service users.

Those struggling with homelessness often become “closed off, guarded and secretive” in order to protect themselves, but Franciscan-founded Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) in Dublin City Centre offer an environment in which people feel respected and safe. From a platform of trust, staff can assist people to access physical and mental health and addiction services.

As a Community Liaison Officer with MQI, Alan Dooley manages a team that go out on patrols every day to link in with neighbours, businesses and their clients, many of whom are rough sleepers. Those who are homeless and have not engaged with the service are encouraged to do so – making that first connection. 

During a tour for donors in MQI, Mr Dooley said: “A lot of clients are leading extremely difficult lives, anyone who walks through town can see the number of tents that are popping up here, there and everyone. The people who are sleeping in sleeping bags with no tents, you can just imagine what that must be like.

“It’s really important that we treat the needs of people who present here, but we’re also cognisant of the fact that we need to meet people who are out there, who may not know about our service or who may be reluctant to use our service, and encourage them to link in.”

To see them come in and avail of a hearty breakfast, for me as long as I’ve been working here it’s really gratifying”

MQI offers a breakfast service from 8am-9.30am, a hot meal for lunch at 2pm and another in the evening. For Mr Dooley, meeting people at breakfast is his favourite part of the day, saying: “To see people come in at 8 o’ clock in the morning, who have slept out all night, or who have been in emergency accommodation where the services may not be great, or there’s not a lot of support other than a bed… to see them come in and avail of a hearty breakfast, for me as long as I’ve been working here it’s really gratifying.

“It also gives us the opportunity to canvass the clients who are coming in. It’s unbearably difficult not knowing one night after another how safe they are going to be.”

After breakfast the team focus on engaging with and assisting people who take a step further by asking for help with their physical or mental health, or an addiction – sometimes all three. 


They take them into a room and begin that process of engaging them to improve their situation, Mr Dooley said: “The system outside of here is not always set up to meet the needs of our clients promptly so people who are looking to get into treatment, looking to access more stable accommodation… it’s important we are here and have the capacity to work with people and help them on an ongoing basis.”

In order for this to happen, there needs to be a level of trust. Mr Dooley says many people become quite “closed, guarded and secretive” due to their lives on the streets and “in order to survive they have to be wary of people”. 

“Over the years what has happened is even the most guarded individuals when they come through our doors, day in, day out, they are treated with respect, humanity – with someone who is prepared to sit down and have a cup of tea with them and check in. A lot of the conversations that happen are not around homelessness, they can be about family, they can be about sport. People can come here and there is an element of normality about the conversation before it needs to stray into some of the darker stuff, the more serious stuff, about how they are living and where they want to go. Over time the vast majority of people begin to realise ‘this place is OK, these people are OK, I can let my guard down, I can trust’”, he said. 

At this point MQI can point people towards a range of services they provide including doctors, nurses, dentists and even a hairdresser”

 “When people trust the service and the individuals, they are more likely to let you know how things are going on for them.”

At this point MQI can point people towards a range of services they provide including doctors, nurses, dentists and even a hairdresser. With more than 300 individuals accessing their service daily, it is a big task. 

MQI also plays a significant role in Dublin’s efforts to combat drug addiction. Through a range of services including outreach, harm reduction, detoxification, and rehabilitation programmes, the charity continues to support individuals grappling with substance abuse. 

The operation of drug treatment centres like MQI’s has sparked debate. Despite the controversy, MQI remains committed to its mission of assisting those in need. Its services aim to provide vital support while advocating for the rights and dignity of individuals struggling with addiction.

Mr Dooley explained: “Trauma informed practice over the last couple of years has become really, really important in how we deliver our services here. It’s an understanding that for a lot of people who access services like ours, trauma has been with them. Some people who have experienced trauma will use drugs to help them cope, will use alcohol to help them cope, unfortunately some people become entrenched in.” 


“We’re not saying drug use is safe, we are most certainly not promoting drug use, we’re acknowledging the fact that it is happening on a daily basis, so rather than pulling the blinds and locking the doors and hoping it goes away, we’re offering a pragmatic response.”

The aim is that when a service user gets to a point in their lives when they feel they can do something about their addiction, they are in the best possible condition both physically and psychologically. Mr Dooley added: “We’re not saying ‘Hey look drug use is great! Why isn’t everyone doing it?’ Quite the opposite.”

The work of the needle exchange in MQI, which constantly needs to adapt due to changing trends of drug use such as the dramatic rise of crack cocaine use in Dublin, is about ensuring those who are using drugs are doing so safely. 

They offer the sanitary paraphernalia to service users depending on what drugs they are taking, this could be various sized needles, sterile water, alcohol swaps, and other chemicals that break down impurities, with Mr Dooley saying this is particularly important as “the people who are involved in the wholesale of drugs, they cut drugs with anything and everything, baby powder, laxatives, cement dust – no matter how well you grind down cement dust, you put that into your veins it’s not going to be long before your veins are thrombosed – people butcher themselves”. 

As Dublin continues to confront addiction-related challenges, MQI’s work underscores the importance of comprehensive, community-driven approaches in addressing this complex issue.