Homeless charity Galway Simon Community has warned that the homelessness crisis is worse now than at any other time in the 40 years since the organisation was founded — and it fears it will continue to get worse before it starts to improve.
According to the charity, the number of households it has supported so far this year has increased by 20 per cent on the same period in 2018 and is the highest number of households it has ever supported.
The shocking claims came as COPE Galway commenced its annual Cold Weather Response, in conjunction with Galway City Council, three weeks earlier than in previous winters. The 23 additional beds for those who sleep rough are provided at the site of the COPE Galway Day Centre for Homeless on Seamus Quirke Road.
585 households, representing 1,069 adults and children, were supported by Galway Simon Community’s services from January to October of this year. This is more households than the charity supported in all of 2018. According to the charity, the majority of this increase has been in the demand for their Homelessness Prevention Services across the city and county.
The latest emergency accommodation figures released by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government showed there were 561 people in emergency accommodation in the West of Ireland in September of this year, including 89 families and 213 children. Of these, approximately 24 people who were supported by Galway Simon Community’s Temporary Emergency Service during September would have been included in the overall figures.
Crisis is widespread
Karen Golden, CEO of Galway Simon Community, highlighted the scale of the deepening crisis and explained why prevention work must be prioritised.
“Already this year Galway Simon has supported more households than we did in the whole of 2018. Unfortunately this crisis is widespread across the city and county and we are seeing this on a day to day basis in our services through increased referrals. People are being left with no options, many having to sleep rough or in cars, on sofas of loved ones or enter into emergency accommodation. The trauma being experienced by people facing homelessness is horrendous.
“The emergency accommodation figures reported on each month do not represent the true extent of the homelessness crisis. Only a very small number of the people that we support are represented in these figures. To date, we have not seen the urgent action that this crisis requires. Due to this, our frontline services are anticipating an even further increase in homelessness over the coming months.
“The private rental market is not meeting the needs of our local community, and in particular those who are relying on housing benefits. Many 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,” said Ms Golden.
Additional beds for people sleeping rough
“The 23 additional beds are specifically for people sleeping rough in Galway and will be available over the coldest and most inclement weeks and months of the year,” explained Martin O’Connor of COPE Galway. “The main aim is to provide a warm and safe place for people to be off the streets in the evening and night time, safeguarding them against the risk of harm associated with sleeping rough. We also aim to work with and support individuals to identify long term solutions to their situation focusing on helping them secure accommodation and housing.”
The Cold Weather Response operates from 5.30pm each evening, providing night time sleeping accommodation along with access to a hot meal, shower and laundry facilities. Access to medical care and support is also provided with the support of the HSE. During the day, those using the service will have access to supports through the COPE Galway operated Day Centre service. The project will remain in place until April 24th 2020.
Last winter, during its 22 weeks of operation, the Cold Weather Response project accommodated 199 people ranging in age from 18 to over 80 years.
COPE Galway is asking the Galway public for their assistance to help spread the word about the availability of these additional beds and to also let the organisation know details of locations where people are rough sleeping. You can phone 085 8009641 and 085 8009709 to contact the Cold Weather Response team during the evening and night time. You can also make contact during daytime hours, Monday to Saturday, by telephoning 091 525259.
For further details, visit https://www.copegalway.ie/cold-weather-response/