Off the streets, back to work
When she met other homeless persons in emergency housing, she realised that many factors can contribute to a change in living circumstances. “I wasn’t aware of the diversity of situations. Some people I met had misplaced passports or had just fallen on tough times. Sometimes, when you tell employers about your background, they don’t make that distinction and they imagine you are sitting on the side of the street drinking all day.”
She has now been working for eight months in the hospitality sector and, while she says her employer may not be aware of her background, she is not ashamed to tell colleagues when they ask. “I’m proud of where I have come from and where I am now,” she says.
Another person who returned to training and education through the help of Cork Simon is 39-year-old Julien. He moved back to Cork in 2011, having lived in Jersey for close to a decade, where he worked as a coffee roaster. Some friends accommodated him initially on his return, but he moved to emergency accommodation with Cork Simon.
The agency also assisted him in accessing social welfare. “I left Ireland for family reasons and so when I returned I knew very few people,” Julien says. “Cork Simon literally gave me everything from socks on my feet to telling me about courses I could do.”
Julien was assisted in getting an apartment and he has enrolled in a FÁS course in business management and administration during the day, and a start your own business course at night. He says he wanted to be upfront with other students about his recent past. “I told the truth. Everyone on the course is looking to be employed or start his or her own business. Talking about being homeless opened the class right up and there is such a bond because of that.”
Julien hopes to launch a DIY-related business next year, once his courses are completed. “I didn’t have an addiction but depression is something I suffer from. What these courses give me is the confidence to believe I can do it,” he says.
Another course participant describes how doing a parenting course through Cork Simon has given her new confidence. “My child is in care because of my drinking and I now see my child once a month . . . In the course, they told me I was entitled to more access, and I got an extra hour a month with my child, which is great. I left school when I was 15 as I had poor concentration. The teacher would be telling me things and I’d go off into a world of my own. I’m now back learning maths and English one-to-one, and it is also giving me confidence.”
As with many frontline services, funding for the project is now an issue. “We are very worried these days because the level of State funding has declined quite substantially in recent years,” says Cork Simon’s chief executive Dermot Kavanagh. “It is hard to be optimistic.
“There are stereotypical views of homelessness that circulate in society. I hope we are breaking them down. What our work and our report show is that persons who are homeless are well motivated to take up employment and get their lives back on track. We just need to convince society of that fact sometimes.”
For details, or to donate, see corksimon.ie