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Homeless charities had “extremely challenging” year in Galway


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Homeless charities had “extremely challenging” year in Galway

“Extremely challenging” is how the head of the Galway Simon Community sums up 2022 – a year when the challenges of Covid were replaced by the worsening housing crisis.

But Karen Golden is cautiously hopeful that 2023 will see pressure on the availability of housing ease with the promise of more houses being built.

The latest figures available are for October, when the number of families in emergency accommodation increased further, with a 28% year-on-year increase in the west during the month.

That could well be exacerbated further when end-of-year statistics are collated due to the recent severe cold spell, which is adding misery on top of rising food and fuel poverty.

In figures tallied before Christmas, Galway Simon revealed it had prevented 551 households from losing a roof above their head, which included 197 families and 420 children. The charity provided accommodation to 193 people in its own units – 160 are given shelter in emergency beds managed by Galway Simon every night.

“On the one had we were coming out of the worst of Covid but on the other hand we straight into the cost-of-living crisis. We were already working with people who were experiencing fuel and food poverty so the big increase in costs put a lot of pressure on struggling households so overall it was extremely challenging.”

The lack of supply of housing is more acute than ever, with staff having to work harder than ever to source a home for people unable to find one themselves.

Galway City Council is projecting the delivery of 1,435 social homes by 2026, of which 40 per cent are to be built by approved housing bodies. There were 265 due to be delivered by the end of 2022 and 341 set for 2023. A further 285 are planned for 2024.

There is a target of 1,005 new affordable homes, including for purchase and cost rental, set under the national Housing for All policy in partnership with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Approved Housing Bodies.

Of the units, 23% are proposed to be one-bedroom units, and some will also be used to accommodate long-term homeless people through the Housing First programme in which the Galway Simon plays a pivotal role. This programme wraps vital supports around housing provision for those entrenched in homelessness whether they are dealing with addiction, mental health issues or physical difficulties.

The majority of units to be delivered will be two-bed, with one and two-bed units making up 70% of total delivery planned.

Galway Simon has a dedicated youth services section to help people aged between 18 and 25 to find a stable home, many of them leaving the care system with no family supports. The programme encourages them to take up training, education and employment so that over time they will be able to live independently.

“Overall, I’m hopeful that the delivery of housing will happen, and it will start to alleviate the situation. I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m concerned too because realistically the trend of the last number of years is the situation continues to deteriorate,” stated the CEO.

“The Rebuilding Ireland programme saw the situation get significantly worse over five years rather than improving it. So, the proof will be in the delivery of houses and when the numbers start to come down.

“We did see them start to come down in Covid. There were fewer notices to quit so people in private rented tenancies had much more stability. Since Covid we know a lot more landlords are exiting the market so there are a lot more notices to quit.”

The last census showed there were 166,000 vacant properties across the country – even to bring 5,000 or 10,000 of those back into circulation would make a significant difference to supply.

Environmentally it would also be a no-brainer, she reflects.

Cope Galway had one of its busiest years in its nearly half century of existence, with its 2021 annual report showing those who had to seek help with a roof over their heads jumped by 14 per cent.

Sinead Carey, Cope Galway’s Head of Homeless Service, said it was staggering that there would shortly be 11,000 people in Ireland who do not have a place to call home.

“Examining this issue from a human rights perspective, we must ask how Government can prioritise achieving every citizen’s basic human right to a home of your own, when the housing crisis is affecting every facet of society.”

The greatest share of the charity’s resources went to help 1,316 families and individuals who were homeless or at risk of losing their home.

Of these, 994 were adults, 322 were children, 119 were families and 814 were single people, whose numbers were up by over a third on 2020.

By mid-2021 there was a growing stream of newly homeless families entering emergency accommodation due mainly to the lifting of the moratorium on evictions, explained Sinead Carey, head of the homeless service.

“Homelessness isn’t limited to people we see sleeping on the street, in bus shelters, doorways and parks. Here in Galway, where a lack of affordable housing has pushed people into substandard accommodation, we regularly meet people who are living in cars and garages or survive by couch surfing and living in extremely overcrowded conditions,” she explained.

The organisation extended its Street Outreach Service for rough sleepers from one to four mornings a week to deal with the numbers of regular street sleepers, who were mainly migrants and ineligible for services such as emergency accommodation.

The “inappropriate and unauthorised” use of residential units for short-term letting purposes in Galway is something that is devastating the situation for homeless people, remarked Martin O’Connor, Cope Galway Assistant CEO.

“Despite a lot of ongoing hard work and effort to meet the housing needs of people who are homeless, this situation is frustrating for everyone as, at best, we appear to be only standing still.”

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