As a sense of family and belonging pervades this festive season, the homelessness crisis continues to persist at local level as we approach a new calendar year.
The issue which garners traction on a daily basis nationally is also proving immensely problematic in Athlone and the environs with Midlands Simon Community experiencing a vast increase in demand for their services during the year.
Referencing the ongoing concerns pertaining to the homelessness issue, Mark Cooney, Chairman of the Board of the Midlands Simon Community, noted that the Emergency Accommodation Service was now working to capacity.
“Looking back on this year, it was one where Midlands Simon Community supported more persons with this relevant need than ever before,” Mr. Cooney remarked.
Advancing the service provided, Midlands Simon Community also established a new out of hours facility this year.
“The service responds to the needs of people sleeping rough or in need of advice and support outside of daytime working hours by providing them with practical supports like sleeping bags or food as well as information and advice. Based on their needs, Midlands Simon Community can make referrals to other agencies to ensure the individual is linking in with services to avail of the supports needed.
“We are very appreciative of the support of Westmeath County Council in putting this service in place. It is meeting an unmet need and unfortunately, the reality of rough sleeping is something that the out of hours service is encountering in the Midlands. I would also like to thank the HSE for the work that they have done and continue to do so in this instance,” Mr. Cooney continued.
The Midlands Simon Community Chairman noted the advances made during the year pertaining to the support of those persons progressing out of homelessness.
“Our main focus this year was to support people progressing out of homelessness. We did this through our Sli Nua project in Athlone which now has provided permanent homes for ten people, having purchased three new homes this year.
“Midlands Simon Community’s regional support service for homelessness helped support over thirty people move out of homelessness for good in Westmeath in 2019.
“For us as volunteers, this is one of the most satisfying parts of our work, when we support someone from the awful, insecure position of homelessness to the security of having a home of their own.”
“To think that there are people that did not have a home last Christmas but do now because of Midlands Simon Community is what keeps our volunteers and staff motivated,” Mr. Cooney emphasised.
Separate to the service provided by Midlands Simon Community, it was made publicly known at a recent Athlone Moate Municipal District meeting that the estimated expenditure on private emergency accommodation in Athlone will total €725,000.
Presently, there are ten families comprising fifteen adults and twenty five children and eight single adults occupying emergency accommodation in Athlone.
Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke who broached the issue at Council level stated that the year on year increased local authority emergency accommodation expenditure was not sustainable.
“Yes, the increasing expenditure figure is a worry, but of more concern is the number of persons ending up in such a homelessness predicament. Why should children have to prepare for school in a temporary bed and breakfast lodging? This is not a home,” Cllr. O’Rourke stressed.
With prospective properties due to become available in The Orchard and Arcadin (on a phased allocation basis ), the issue may be partially alleviated in the new year, but according to Cllr. O’Rourke a deeper understanding of homelessness at both a local and national level is required with the allocation of appropriate funding key in this regard.