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Galway charities approach new Year with no end in sight to devastating housing crisis

Homelessness reached record levels in October – with no end in sight in 2024 to the housing crisis that is devastating all levels of society.

CEO of the Galway Simon Community, Karen Golden, said staff at the homeless charity were under enormous pressure to find options for people who are without the security of home.

“We are disappointed that we haven’t seen the level of housing delivery that we would have hoped for in order to meet this need in 2023. All of the figures and statistics represent people, individuals and families, adults and children, people in our community who do not have the security of a home.  We must not become numbed by the data.”

The most recent Emergency Accommodation figures released by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government showed there were 580 people in Emergency Accommodation across Galway, Mayo and Roscommon at the end of October, including 360 adults and 220 children. The total is the highest number of people ever in Emergency Accommodation in the West and reflects the ongoing housing crisis, cost of living increases and the lifting of the moratorium on evictions. The number of children in being put up in hotels, B&Bs and modular housing is also at record levels in the West.

The charity has supported 717 households, including 789 adults and 337 children from January to September of this year.

“The trauma being experienced by people facing homelessness is horrendous.  For children, this trauma can stay with them for years.”

Residential property prices across the West continue to grow and rents in private rented accommodation have seen annual increases of 16% across Galway, Mayo and Roscommon from the third quarter last to the same three-month period this year.

There was only one property to rent in Galway city within Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) limits over the three days of the charity’s survey.

“People are having to choose between everyday necessities like food, heat and electricity and paying their rent. This coupled with the slow pace of social housing build means there is a greater need for homelessness prevention services than ever before.

“We know that prevention measures work and that they greatly reduce the trauma experienced by those affected by homelessness. Prevention is also much more cost effective than the cost of Emergency Accommodation. Over the last three years, of those who engaged with our Prevention Services, over 90% did not access Emergency Accommodation.”

Staff are delighted when they help people move into a new home, she reflects.

“Some of those people just needed to get a roof over their heads.  They needed to come out of a crisis and are now enjoying their newfound security. Children can be reassured that Santa knows where to find them.  They are no longer living out of suitcases.”

There are also the individuals and families who need support as well as a home.

“These are people who have had a lot of difficulties in their lives.  Some have experienced a lot of rejection and loss, their support networks are threadbare, and they need very practical support and encouragement to find stability, joy and belonging in the world.

“Sometimes the people with whom we work feel ashamed, that they have let people down, that they failed in some way.  Even when hearts are open to them, they just cannot get through those barriers.

“Sometimes we know and understand that there are people in the world concerned about and worried about our individual clients – mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, children, nieces, cousins.  Sometimes it can take a lot of work and support to allow these connections to be rebuilt.  When connections are rebuilt, these are the golden days working in Galway Simon Community.”

Karen is keen to stress that staff are there for as long as they are needed throughout 2024.

“Our incredible teams continue to work with compassion and commitment to enable people to find security in their own homes and rebuild connections with family and friends.”

With the demand for secure and affordable housing continuing to outstrip supply – and more landlords leaving the private rental market – frontline services are anticipating an even further increase in homelessness over the coming months.

Recruiting and retaining staff was the most challenging aspect of 2023 for Cope Galway. But they are optimistic that will improve for 2024 after a hard-fought national wage agreement resulted in improved pay and conditions for the sector.

The Cold Weather Response facility funded by Galway City Council and run by Cope – a bed for 19 rough sleepers in addition to what is there year-round – could only operate at night-time due to a lack of staff.

That new facility on the east side of the city – to replace the Glen Oaks Hotel which was no longer let to the Council – only opened two weeks ago. The hotel had previously accommodated 39 men and women during the harsh weather months.

Martin O’Connor, assistant CEO, said just after it came on stream 17 people took up shelter there – staff counted a further 15 continuing to sleep rough despite the stormy conditions.

Cope’s day services centre – allowing rough sleepers to have food and showers, do laundry, get advice around social welfare supports – had their busiest year ever, with over 35 attending every day and up to 50 on occasions.

Martin O’Connor, assistant CEO, said there remains around 32 people regularly sleeping in doorways or wherever they can find shelter in Galway City, a figure that has been “persistent and consistent”.

The moratorium on evictions ended in April but Galway City Council did manage to keep some families in situ by purchasing the properties after extra funding from the Government.

Cope helped around 12 families or individuals move out of emergency accommodation into social housing, which were either new developments or relets of Council properties.

“The two local authorities and the approved housing bodies have been active in 2023 and we’ve seen families move to the top of the waiting list, which was very encouraging towards the end of the year,” reflects Martin.

“But only a handful have moved into the private sector – that continues to be one of the real challenges in Galway because there’s such a shortage and it’s so expensive.”

Next year the charity hopes there will be significant progress on the new purpose-built homeless centre on the Seamus Quirke Road being built by the Council replacing the current building to include some accommodation.

Over 1,200 people were supported by COPE through their homelessness services last year, including 303 children who were either homeless or at risk of homelessness and 136 families.

Pictured: Karen Golden…CEO of the Galway Simon Community.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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