Merchants Quay Ireland has reported a significant increase in the numbers accessing its services for basic food and medical needs.

The homeless charity provided over 73,000 meals last year, up from 64,000 the year before.

There was also a 21% increase in demand for its free GP service.

The charity said the figures, revealed in its 2011 Annual Review, are a strong indication of the increased levels of poverty and desperation being experienced by people in the current economy.

CEO Tony Geoghegan said nobody looks for a dinner unless they really need it.

He said the 21% increase in demand for its free GP service brings home the harsh physical realities of life on the street

Demand for the charity's drug services remains high, with over 4,000 people using its Dublin city centre needle exchange service last year - including an average of ten new people every week.

Merchants Quay now operates in 11 counties and in the prison system, and has reported growing demands for drug services in the Midlands.

Its two rehabilitation facilities, High Park and St Francis Farm, saw increased numbers of clients, and there are now waiting lists for both.

The charity says that for the estimated 10,000 methadone users in Ireland, there are only about 50 beds available nationwide.