Lack of space forces refuge to turn away 700 women and children

A city based domestic violence refuge was unable to accommodate almost 700 women and children seeking safety last year, due to a lack of space. These startling figures for Waterside House were revealed in COPE Galway’s annual report, published this week. It outlines that its domestic violence service supported more than 380 women and their 180 children in 2015.

This included responding to 1,100 calls on their 24 hour helpline from or on behalf of women seeking support and information, 780 outreach appointments, and 205 court accompaniments.

Due to the housing crisis, many women who were ready to move on from the refuge were unable to access private rented accommodation due to shortages, high rent levels and issues with rent supplements. This resulted in families staying for extended periods in the refuge which in turn meant a lack of refuge spaces for women currently seeking safety because of domestic violence.

“Our domestic violence service at Waterside House helped 380 women and their 180 children last year,” said Jacquie Horan, the chief executive of COPE Galway, the local charity which works to improve the quality of life for older people, the homeless and those experiencing domestic violence.

“But with such limited supply and access to housing in Galway preventing our clients from moving on, we were unable to accommodate 288 women and their 405 children.

“Work on our new domestic violence refuge at Forster Street will commence early in 2017 after intense work on getting the project off the ground last year. This new facility will be secure, with gardens and play areas and will almost double our existing capacity.”

COPE Galway’s annual report went on to call on the Government to urgently address the issue of homelessness in Galway - there was a 23 per cent increase in the numbers of families who sought assistance from the organisation due to becoming homeless or being at risk of homeless last year.

Figures revealed in the publication highlighted the seriousness of the issues with which the charity deals - it worked with 1,600 households across Galway city and county in 2015 alone. Of those, 659 households (with 369 children ) were either experiencing or were at risk of homelessness. COPE Galway also worked with 565 older people in need of nutritional and social supports.

Also launching its pre-budget submission this week, Ms Horan said that Budget 2017 is a real opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to a number of issues relating to homelessness and domestic violence, and to commit to resources for the “Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, Rebuilding Ireland,” published in July 2016.

COPE Galway is calling on the Government in the budget to increase the level and speed of delivery of social housing to ensure that the target of 47,000 additional social housing units by 2021 is achieved and to support local authorities and approved housing bodies to help achieve this. It is also calling for an extension of the Housing First approach to other urban areas outside Dublin to address the growing problem of street homelessness and rough sleeping in Galway.

The charity last year provided homeless services emergency accommodation for 281 households, and supported a further 378 households with prevention, resettlement and tenancy support services. In line with national figures, the biggest issue and primary reason contributing to homelessness was the shortage of affordable and suitable housing options for people to move into. This was due to the ongoing and worsening housing crisis in Galway city, arising from shortage of supply and high rent levels.

Of most note in 2015 was a 23 per cent increase in the numbers of families becoming homeless (56 families including 133 children were provided with emergency accommodation in 2015, which was more than double that of 2014. ) A growing number of these families also remained in emergency accommodation for extended periods of time due to a severe shortage of social and private rented accommodation.

COPE Galway also experienced an increase in the numbers of people sleeping rough in Galway. On average 13 people per night sought a bed in the COPE Galway Cold Weather Response, operating from the Fairgreen Hostel from November 2015 to March 2016 (up from six in the previous year ). The shortage of housing in the city contributed to a situation where people were continuing to live in emergency accommodation for extended periods of time hence fewer spaces were available to respond to new presenting needs.

COPE Galway has stressed the urgency of supporting the region’s ageing population. The numbers of people aged 85 and over in Ireland is predicted to grow at a rate of four per cent per cent annually, with an expected quadrupling from 100,000 to 440,000 nationally by 2041.

The charity’s older persons’ services support healthy and independent ageing at home through COPE Galway Community Catering Meals on Wheels, the Sonas Day Centre, Community Support service and Lunch Clubs.

In 2015, COPE Galway produced and delivered over 55,000 meals to 401 older people through its Meals on Wheels service and catered for more than 80 people weekly across seven lunch clubs in the city. In addition, the COPE Galway Community Support Service and Sonas Day Centre supported 84 people during the year.

“The stated Government policy and the preferred choice of the majority of older people is to remain living independently in their own homes,” says Jacquie Horan. “This requires significant investment in community support for older people.”

“We’re calling on the Government to make additional funds available for Meals on Wheels. Being such a lifeline for hundreds of older people in the city, we would love to see the service made available to a greater number of people across the county where there is no service currently. We also want to increase menu options and introduce nutritional analysis in order to best respond to the needs of a growing number of older people with specific nutritional requirements.”

COPE Galway is also calling for the introduction of a statutory right to community-based supports such as Home Care Packages for older people similar to the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Fair Deal ). This would ensure adequately-resourced homecare supports that would support older people to continue to live in their own homes for as long as they are able to do so.

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