Sunday, November 08, 2009

 

Simon Community warns on homelessness

Last week the Environment Committee, of which I am a member, received a presentation from the Simon Communities of Ireland in relation to homelessness.

The organisation provides services to around 5,000 people annually. As well as this they campaign for better facilities and treatment of homeless people, and for the root-causes to be addressed.

In attendance at the committee was their Chief Executive Officer, Mr Patrick Burke, as well as their research officer and staff from their Dublin, Cork and Dundalk offices.

As part of their presentation we were provided with the results of a recent study of their clients. Some of the numbers were shocking to me. Almost 60% of those who came into Simon’s facilities had a mental health condition, a further 48% had a diagnosed physical condition and 77% of the total had both.

Four out of five of their users reported using alcohol and almost half of that group described themselves as heavy users. Whilst in the past alcohol used to be the main feature, drug use is now becoming more common.

Niall Mulligan, of the Dundalk Simon Community sees at first-hand how the current recession is hitting people who are vulnerable. He told us that “People turning to us now, often have nowhere else to go, they have run out of options, are in poor health and are isolated, lonely and excluded. Many have experienced great trauma in their lives and at this point their only option is the Simon Community. The added tragedy is that in the current climate all the Simon communities around Ireland are under increasing pressure in terms of funding - with reductions in statutory funding across a range of budget lines and uncertainty in terms of voluntary donations.”

Like the Peoples Resources Centers around the country, it is in times of recession that more people need these services. Currently, the Simon Communities have no idea how much funding they will get next year, other than that it will probably go down. If it does, cuts to services are likely to follow.

The uncertainty of future funding could impact on the behaviour of homeless people within the shelters. In response to a question of mine I was told that the longer a person stays in an uncertain situation the likelier it is for a drug or alcohol addiction to take over. It becomes harder and harder for a person to break an addiction but stability in housing can help to address addiction.

So, cuts to these services, such as to the amount of sheltered housing available can have a real impact on the ground, with more people likely to have to go without services, fewer people gaining access to rehabilitation centres, higher rates of medical interventions needed by homeless people. My view is that in the short, medium and long term such cutbacks are unlikely to be cost-effective.

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