Focus Ireland determined to increase funding to help cope with demand for homeless services


FOCUS IRELAND may be one of the few charities that aims to increase its funding during the coming years as demand for homeless services soar but this is a major challenge.

“If you’ve got a graph of funding going down, then you can look at the graph on demand going up,” Joyce Loughnan, chief executive of Focus Ireland, said.

It costs €20 million a year to run the organisation, which provides prevention services, homeless support and housing support as well as advocacy and education across the country. About 60 per cent of funding comes from the Government, 30 per cent from public and corporate donations and 10 per cent from service users.

Although traditional collection boxes have seen donations go from notes to coins, the organisation’s public donations have held steady in the past year. An increase in legacies, people leaving the charity money in their wills, have “saved us this year”, Ms Loughnan said. It has also managed to hold on to its 8,000 monthly donors.

However, in an increasingly competitive and challenging fundraising environment it needs to double this. “We are determined to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2013 and to keep services going we need to get donations up,” Ms Loughnan said.

Corporate donations dropped sharply when the downturn began, from 25 per cent of funds raised to about 10 per cent but these have surprisingly held steady in 2011, she said.

People are more keen to know exactly what the donation is spent on, such as €2 provides a hot meal. “We spend 91 cent of every euro on direct services,” Ms Loughnan said.

With some 60 per cent of its funding from Government it has seen this cut by between 3 and 8 per cent each year, with a further cut of 7 to 8 per cent in 2011.

The uncertainty has also been difficult with Focus Ireland not receiving confirmation of the Government allocation for 2011 until December 2011, the latest it has ever been, and making it “very chaotic” trying to run “core services on behalf of the Government,” Ms Loughnan said.

Next year it expects another 7-8 per cent cut in Government funding but with this coming from different departments it is uncertain how they will implement their budget cuts.

The Health Service Executive provides over half its funding and the organisation fears this element could be cut up to 10 per cent, which would be “appalling”, Ms Loughnan said.

It is more optimistic about the Department of the Environment funds as it has a strategy to deliver more long-term housing for homeless people. “But if they don’t deliver homes and demand continues to increase we are in a very different situation,” she said.

Alongside cumulative cuts is a cumulative increase in demand from 5,000 customers in 2009 to more than 6,000 in 2011. In 2011 alone demand is up 12 per cent.

A delayed effect from early recession job-losses has pushed demand for homeless services up this year as people deplete savings and outstay their welcome among family. “It’s usually quite a few years before people get to the point of actually being homeless and needing us, so that increase in demand as the recession takes effect is going to increase significantly,” she said.

She appealed to people to seek help as early as possible.

The organisation received calls from “all walks of life” seeking help as well as an increase in older people worried about their children’s finances or losing their own family home (used as collateral).

With this increase in service demand and falling funding the charity has made many changes in staffing by not replacing those who leave and workers changing shifts, location and working longer hours, with pay at 2008 levels.