Local Councillor calls for formal establishment of permanent base to assist homeless within Athlone

RONAN FAGAN

The need to establish a fixed information office enabling homeless individuals within the Municipal District to avail of relevant support services is paramount, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke stated this week.

The Fianna Fáil councillor broached the pertinent issue with his fellow elected representatives and local authority executive during the recent sitting of the Athlone-Moate Municipal District.

“We have numerous bodies and agencies in the Midlands region who work within the homelessness arena, the HSE, Merchants Quay and the local authority being three such support services in place. Each one appears to have their own role and they do their utmost to provide the necessary supports. However, there seems to be a real lack of cohesion and inter-agency coordination.

“We hear the well used phrase ‘wraparound services’ when discussions take place pertaining to matters homeless. It sounds good but what does it actually mean?

“Here, in Athlone, it is genuinely very sad to see the same long term homeless aimlessly drifting around the town every day and even on the coldest nights they have no place to go. In recent years it seems that more people join them during the summer months and therefore we have more people pitching tents around the town. To me, this demonstrates that the system is clearly not working.

“The first place to start in my mind is to have a single point of reference, a physical base location. This resource would be manned several times a week and would provide support by way of general advice, counselling, harm reduction support, health screening, housing advice, rehabilitation, family support and addiction support. There are many many ways these people can and need to be helped.

“You cannot provide a wraparound service to a moving target. The outreach workers currently walk around town to locate homeless individuals, but this is not how it should work. Some days they find them and other days they simply do not. On the flip side, if those who are homeless come willingly to an established location seeking support, the chances of a positive outcome are certainly far greater.

“In Tullamore there is an open access drug and alcohol prevention and treatment support service. It provides a very important solid base from which very important one-to-one support is afforded. This is the kind of approach I am now proposing and I look forward to visiting this centre in due course to witness how it operates.

“So, my proposal is that our Housing Welfare Officer, Vincent Gleeson, and our local authority housing staff explore the idea of establishing a fixed physical location from which a cohesive inter-agency effort would better focus collectively on tackling the long-term homeless issue in Athlone,” Cllr O’Rourke said.

In response, a spokesperson for the council executive stated that homeless individuals can present to the Housing Section in Athlone Civic Centre.

“The Homeless Prevention Officer will follow up with all relevant presentations either in person or by phone to conduct a homeless assessment and to discuss the range of support services required.

“The Homeless Prevention Officer assesses the individuals housing status and supports and will refer to emergency accommodation where necessary. Based on the assessment the Homeless Prevention Officer can make referrals to services such as the Homeless Liaison Nurse and the Homeless Liaison Addiction Nurse for support with access to health and addiction services.

“With the individual’s consent, cases can also be referred to the multidisciplinary Homeless Action Team (HAT ) which includes representation from the HSE, Addiction Services and Housing Support Services where multidisciplinary supports can be provided where required,” the council executive spokesperson commented.

 

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