Since 1990, Community Response has run alcohol addiction services at Carman’s Hall in the Liberties.
But director Nicola Perry and her co-workers realised that their service was not reaching everyone who needed it.
She noticed migrant people drinking on the streets near the centre, she says. “We knew they weren’t coming to us and we wanted to find out why.”
Her team paired up with the Centre for Counselling and Therapy, an organisation working for Polish people, and the South Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force to delve into the issue and see if they could reach those who they had overlooked.
From March to November 2019, outreach workers went out in pairs to chat to people who had moved to Dublin from elsewhere and were addicted to alcohol, and drinking on the street. Most of them were sleeping rough or staying in homeless hostels.
“We tried to balance that one worker would have some other language capability, mainly Eastern European,” says Perry.
The team interviewed 45 people, most of whom were Polish, says Perry. “We were getting the odd Romanian, Somalian, German and French.”
The result of the outreach is the publication of new research, on how migrants can access alcohol addiction services.
The research, says Perry, has already changed the way Community Response operates. “This is only just scratching the surface.”
“Basically there were zero academic articles in this field,” says Eva Devaney, a sociology researcher in the University of Limerick.
She found four other studies done on migrants accessing alcohol addiction services in Ireland but they weren’t peer-reviewed, she says. “Yeah, I was very surprised.”
Everyone interviewed, mostly men, said that the language barrier prevented them from accessing addiction services, the report says.
“There is a need for services staff that speak different languages,” the report says.
The report also found there was a lack of understanding as to what kind of Irish addiction services there are and how to access them.
Services such as health, mental health or homelessness can be hard to navigate, Perry says.
(In some cases, there are restrictive rules around eligibility to access services.)
“Out of the 45 [people] only four of them had any kind of stable accommodation,” Perry says.
Some people didn’t know what the criteria are for accessing services here, or the wait times.
They might be used to different set-ups. In Poland, for example, alcohol addiction services are free and people do not need a referral from their doctor, according to the report.
Other people they interviewed didn’t know about services at all, says Perry.
“We have to say as service providers, well, that’s on us. Where and how we promote our services is stuff that we should be looking at,” Perry says.
Shame and stigma was a common barrier to those interviewed accessing services as it is with Irish people too, Perry says. “But I was kind of surprised at how prevalent it still was.”
“The outreach work was really effective,” Devaney said.
By the workers going out and meeting people on the street, it was a great way to introduce them to the services, she says.
To start, we need more resources printed online and in different languages, says Devaney.
Services have improved and are publishing more information in different languages this year especially with Covid-19, Devaney says. “That really has not been the tradition before.”
Staff working in addiction services need more understanding of other cultures too, says Devaney.
Perry and her workers did cultural competency training since the report. “There were some really interesting points in the training.”
In some cultures people shake hands upon meeting while other cultures don’t, she says. “Eye contact is a must sometimes and other times it can be very rude.”
It might seem basic but it can be the difference between someone coming back to your service or not, Perry says.
Since the research done, Perry and her team have noticed more migrant people coming into their service.
Now Perry and her team are starting a second piece of research on this issue. “We’re moving everything into much more depth,” she says.
They want to find out more about the exact needs of migrants who are suffering from alcohol addiction.
Perry hopes to make more services even more accessible for them.
“We want to work with service providers in the addiction and the homeless sector to provide training,” Perry says.
Devaney says that there is not enough data on the issue. “You need good evidence to plan good services,” she says.