Wednesday 11 December 2019

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Cork Independent

INDOpinion

Cork Simon: Government policy needs to change now

Wednesday, 31st July, 2019 4:30pm

Lord Mayor Cllr John Sheehan, councillors, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to welcome you all to the official launch of Cork Simon’s annual Impact Report for 2018.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to Jennifer who will formally launch our Impact Report this year.

Jennifer is a past Cork Simon service user now living independently with support from Cork Simon’s Housing Support Team and Jennifer has kindly agreed to launch our annual impact report this morning.

Addiction was what finally pushed Jennifer into homelessness. She had been in and out of homelessness for 10 years. After overcoming her addiction in 2011, she relapsed in 2013, but has not used for over four years.

In early 2018, Jennifer set herself a goal to tell her story publicly with a view to helping people and their families in a similar situation to hers.

Clanmornin House is Cork Simon’s oldest residential high support housing project, dating back to the 1970s and we provide supported housing here for 11 people at any one time. Now however, we are just going to look back to 2018. As with previous years, there is much worrying news but also some good news.

Again in 2018 we worked with more than 1,000 different people in this small city. 2018 marked the first full year of operation for our Nightlight facility - a kind of shelter of last resort offering an extremely basic but safe and warm place for people to sleep as an alternative to the streets. And it has had a big impact on rough sleeping which declined for the first time in the past seven years.

Though 2018 was challenging, there was some good news; we increased our access to housing and as a result 54 per cent more people moved from homelessness to safe and affordable, supported housing in 2018.

Last year we were able to move no fewer than 43 persons, most of who were either long term homeless or had complex support needs into flats and apartments – independent living often with intensive support from our excellent Housing Support Team, and into our aftercare and high-support housing like this one with on-site round-the-clock support.

For those who remain in need of our emergency services, we continued to make trauma-aware improvements. We supported more than 425 people in emergency accommodation at our Shelter and Nightlight services last year.

That was up 25 per cent on 2017 mainly because we had to extend our Nightlight service, with support from Cork City Council, given the number of people in need of emergency accommodation. This contributed to a 23 per cent reduction in the number of people sleeping rough – the first decrease in more than seven years.

While rough sleeping fell for the first time in years thanks to extra capacity at our emergency shelter, more emergency accommodation is not the answer; adequate, secure and affordable housing is what is urgently needed so that more people, who are where Jennifer once was, can also have the opportunity to regain their lives.

Almost 12,000 hot meals were provided via our soup run, with an average of 33 people coming each day – many on the edge of homelessness.

More than 68 people stayed in our high-support housing because they required round-the-clock care; and 126 people were supported in a Cork Simon flat, in private rented housing or in housing provided by other social housing providers – all of them working towards leaving homelessness behind them.

Our education and employment team provided various educational opportunities for 202 providing a pathway towards employment and away from homelessness.

Our various addiction support services aided 78 people last year.

We expect to be able to do even more in 2019 and beyond. We recently rolled out the new Cork Region Housing First Service in partnership with Focus Ireland and the HSE and supported by Cork City Council. The first moves have already taken place and together with our partners, we expect to have housed 20 long term homeless people with very complex needs by the end of the first year.

We have been out there buying and developing affordable housing for homeless people. Our board has approved the purchase of eight such units over the past year with more being sought. We have another eight apartments in the pipeline, which should be ready late next year, and we are developing ever more ambitious plans to provide more and more affordable housing for people who are homeless in Cork.

As Jennifer’s story shows, homelessness is a very bleak place indeed. To suddenly find yourself at rock bottom is a huge shock to the system.

For many, our open door offers the first glimmers of hope. We offer people nourishment, shelter, companionship and human kindness. We offer many pathways to home. We work together as a community to respond and we are fortunate to receive huge support from the wider community.

We are blessed with a very dedicated and hardworking professional staff team who are supported by more than 20 full-time volunteers at any one time, and hundreds of part-time volunteers – roughly 150 working directly in our services and 500 supporting our fundraising efforts. We also have the support of many thousands of generous donors – these are the people that make Cork Simon a Community.

In the coming years, our ambition is to do more, much more to help bring an end to the homeless crisis in Cork. We will work harder than ever to find more affordable housing for people trapped in homelessness.

We will directly and with our partners provide all the support that is necessary to help people address the devastating impact of trauma that is both a cause of and a consequence of the experience of homelessness – housing supports, clinical supports and supports towards social re-integration.

To do all this we need the continued support of the general public, the business community and of Government.

Tackling homelessness requires a real and effective partnership between voluntary agencies such as ours, local authorities and the health services. We are fortunate to have such good partners in the HSE and in Cork City and County Councils.

At a national level, homelessness remains a core priority for Government. However, three years on we believe it is now vital to rethink and strengthen the Rebuilding Ireland strategy. Specifically, we are calling on Government to commit to developing 20,000 cost rental houses and apartments in Ireland with at least 10 per cent (2,000) in Cork.

We would like to see further measure to ensure greater security of tenure for tenants, thereby reducing the risk of homelessness and we would like all parties to commit to measures to ensure that all have access to adequate, affordable and secure housing in Ireland.

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