The reduction of Foyle Haven’s opening hours has had a profoundly negative impact on the mental and physical health of vulnerable street drinkers while producing a knock on effect on public order in Derry, according to the vital facility’s management and the City Centre Initiative (CCI).
Depaul Ireland, which runs the John Street service, has commented publicly for the first time on the negative impacts of the 28.5 hour per week cut in opening hours, which was introduced due to a continuing funding shortfall during the summer.
Visits to Foyle Haven have seen a gradual decrease since late July, with statistics from August showing a month on month decrease of 23 per cent, while September showed a decrease of 30 per cent over August.
Users are spending more and more time on the streets of Derry, according to Depaul and CCI.
Depaul Director of Services David Carroll, said: “The reduction in opening hours at Foyle Haven has had a profoundly negative impact for the vulnerable men and women that rely on the service, as well as, for public order in Derry City as a whole.
“Greater pressure has been placed on partner organisations and public services, vulnerable people have been put at risk.
“Foyle Haven offers a safe environment for people with complex needs and a history of street drinking or substance abuse.
“Scaling back the hours of this vital service removes that safe haven which many had come to rely on, leaving them to engage in harmful behaviour on the streets of Derry, to consuming greater levels of alcohol and to risk taking behaviour.
“Not only that, but the positive steps that had been made in engaging with street drinkers and encouraging them to come to Foyle Haven and access services have been considerably undermined.”
Jim Roddy, of the CCI, concurred: “It is clear to see that there has been an immediate and negative impact in the city centre due to the reduced hours at Foyle Haven.
“There has been a serious knock on effect for public order on the streets of the city with a directly linked increase in incidents that would not have occurred had people had an accepting place to go.
“Shorter opening hours for Foyle Haven has meant that a service which is hugely effective in making our streets better has been undermined.”
Mr. Carroll added: “Despite the efforts made by Depaul and on behalf of the service to acquire the level of investment to address the cuts to funding, it was simply not possible and now, the results are regrettably being felt by some of the most vulnerable members of society along with our staff and across the wider community in Derry.
“We will continue to lobby for the much-needed support of the statutory partners.
“When you consider the impact on individual lives there is a collective responsibility to address this now before any further damage is done.”
A report on the situation, compiled by Depaul management and CCI, has indicated that due to the reduction of hours service users are spending more time drinking on the streets, placing greater risk on themselves and others.
This has resulted in a greater demand on emergency services and on Depaul’s Housing First and Harm Reduction Floating Support- First Housing Night Outreach Support Service.
The PSNI and CCI have also identified an “uptake in the habitual congregation of Foyle Haven users in public areas”.
The authorities have also indicated that there has been increased intoxication in public areas, including outside Bank of Ireland on the Strand Road, Victoria Market, and behind Foyle Road car park, as well as increased levels of street activity and public order incidents.
“There have been a total of 95 incidents recorded by CCTV involving street drinkers (16/07/17-19/09/17). Incidents and exclusions within the day centre have more than doubled in comparison to the same period before opening hours were reduced,” Depaul and CCI reported.
An increased likelihood of death, sickness and a notable deterioration in individuals’ mental and physical health have also been identified.