Dublin- The country’s first night café for homeless people received more than 22,000 referrals last year and dealt with almost 2,000 clients.

The night cafe, operated by Merchant’s Quay in Dublin City Centre, only began offering the service at the start of 2015 but figures show it is now a key aspect of the overall response to the homeless crisis, effectively offering an alternative to sleeping rough for dozens of people each night.

While sleep facilities are limited to a mat on the floor, it also allows clients to utilise other services offered by Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI).

The spiralling housing crisis has seen the number of families and children now homeless soar in recent years, with figures for February 2018 published last week showing a total of 1,739 families in emergency accommodation, including 3,755 children.

However, single people still represent a core group within the homeless population, often experiencing issues with substance misuse or mental health.

Figures provided by MQI showed it had 1,893 unique clients last year and a total of 2,321 referrals — a rate of more than 1,860 each month.

The vast majority of those referrals cane from the Central Placement Service run by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, with a smaller number coming from a Housing First intake team, MQI’s own services and other sources.

The overlap with other services provided by MQI was significant, and the profile of those presenting to the night cafe shows 84% are men.

While 56% of all clients are Irish, almost three quarters of the women using the service are native to this country.

Another quarter of the overall client base are categorised as European, with a smaller number of non-EU or unspecified clients using the service.

More than one third of those who used the night cafe last year are aged between 25 and 34, with 222 people or 12% of the total number of clients aged 18-24. Another 17% of clients are aged 35-39, with the percentage of users in older age groups falling, although the night cafe still had 103 people aged 55 or over using the service last year.

The figures do show a small decrease in the number of referrals and unique clients compared with the figures for 2016, yet an average of 53 people was sleeping at the Liffeyside location every night throughout all of 2017.

Management at the night café had previously warned about the number of “economically homeless” clients that had to use the service.

Last year was only the second full year the night cafe — which has a maximum capacity of 70 people per night — was operating.

In 2016, 60 people per night stayed at the café, up from an average of 47 per night the previous year, with the average nightly presentations falling last year.

However, severe weather events such as the recent heavy snowfall and plummeting temperatures associated with Storm Emma, can put pressure on capacity.

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