Simon Community in Cork has to turn away homeless


This Christmas, more than 100 people will be homeless on the streets of Cork, according to the Simon Community in the city. The organisation has issued an urgent appeal for blankets, which will be given to those who come seeking shelter but must be turned away because there is no room for them.

The organisation cannot cope with the growing clamour for its services. The crisis, says Ms Patricia McAllister, the director of the community, is palpable.

Begging, of course, is illegal, but the law is very often an ass to people who are without shelter or food, and even though they might be an embarrassment to the Celtic Tiger, the growing band of beggars and those who sleep rough at night in Cork is proof the crisis is real.

Similar reports are coming from other cities and towns and it looks as if the problem is destined to get worse, says Ms McAllister, unless there is direct and massive State intervention.

"We believe absolutely that a solution to this problem can be found. But the cheque is not in the post and the money to make it happen is not in the bank," she adds.

The Simon Shelter at Anderson's Quay in Cork is always full after midnight. Despite this, people still form queues in the vain hope a bed for the night might somehow be available. The best the Simon Community can do is to "scratch the surface", providing a quick-fix solution for the lucky few. On average, 20 people are turned away every night.

The shelter caters for 60 people and this number increases each year at Christmas by the provision of a further 15 makeshift beds in a cold-weather shelter which will operate until next March.

The provision of the service has been made possible by a special allocation from Cork Corporation. "The problem has never been worse. Last year, 1,000 homeless people in Cork were in touch with us but the figure is probably far higher than that. What we do know from our experience is that at least 100 people who we have been able to count are sleeping rough in the city each night.

"The situation is being made even worse by the fact that most landlords do not want to know people who are on rent allowance. There is so much demand for rented accommodation that landlords can pick and choose who their tenants will be," Ms McAllister says.

One hopeful sign is that the community has purchased and renovated three apartments in the city with a grant of £280,000 from the Department of the Environment.

For three people who have been through the transitional phase with Simon for up to 18 months during which they were prepared for independent living, the apartments will be a gateway to a new future.

Simon's aim is to provide assistance in whatever form it may be needed to help those in transition to reach out with confidence for a new life. "Moving on to new accommodation marks a huge step in the life of someone who has been living and sleeping rough. Most important of all, it sends a message to others coming through the shelter that the possibility for better things exists and that there is hope," says Ms McAllister.

As pressure continues to mount on the services, which now cost £1.2 million to run each year, the community also finds itself in urgent need of more volunteers to help with its shelter and soup run as well as the work and settlement projects and the youth drugs project.

On Christmas Day, the shelter will host a party for 150 homeless people. Presents will be given to everyone and there will be festive atmosphere for a while and warm food. When the party is over, most of the party-goers will be back roughing it again.