‘Fewer people are giving and that’s evident since the CRC story broke’

Charity needs to raise €140k in the next week to provide support for the homeless in Cork

Although it is one of Ireland's most established charities and one that has a particular place in the affections of Corkonians, even Cork Simon is not immune to the fallout from the Central Remedial Clinic top-ups controversy.

Cork Simon, established 42 years ago, will spend €6.5 million this year on providing services to those who are homeless, and on the verge of being made homeless – two groups whose numbers have swelled with the collapse of the Irish economy during the past five years.

The charity, which employs 76 full-time equivalents and has a core of 20 full-time volunteers and some 1,000 part-time volunteers, is this year hitting record numbers for those utilising its services, such as emergency shelter, soup runs and housing support.

"Our figures for the year to the end of November reveal that there has been a 38 per cent increase in the numbers of homeless people presenting to the charity for the first time, with one-third of these new presentations being people aged 18-26," said Sophie Johnston, Cork Simon campaigns and communications assistant.

Sleeping rough
"As well as that, the number of people sleeping rough has also increased. Back in 2011, 38 different people slept rough in Cork city. Last year it increased fourfold to 161 and this year to the end of November, it's risen again to 169 people.

“Over half of those we are meeting on the Soup Run are in private rented housing – these people are spending what money they have on paying their rent and are relying on us to feed them – they might be just one rent payment away from ending up homeless.”

With the demand for its services increasing throughout the year, it’s little wonder that Cork Simon, like many other charities, looked upon the controversy over top-up payments as one it could have done without.

And although Cork Simon provides independently audited accounts which show where every euro raised goes – 84 per cent of money spent goes directly to projects and services supporting homeless people – it has, nonetheless, felt the impact of the controversy.

Rachel Stevenson, head of fundraising at Cork Simon reveals that close to €2.2 million of its €6.5 million spend this year will come from donations from individuals, groups and companies, but since the top-ups controversy, she has noticed a discernible slowing down in contributions.

“Very definitely it’s having an impact on donations . . . people are still incredibly generous, but I think there are probably fewer people giving compared to previous years and that’s evident in the last few weeks since the CRC story came to prominence in the press.”

The problem is particularly acute for Cork Simon in that it receives between 40 and 50 per cent of what it receives annually from donors in the last quarter of the year, though it was fortunate in that its flag-raising day took place in November just before story about the CRC top-ups broke.

"The concern I would have is that since [the top-ups controversy erupted] we have seen a slowdown in what we would normally expect at Christmas and we still need to raise €140,000 in the run-up to Christmas to meet our services needs," said Ms Stevenson.

“But people are particularly generous at Christmas – it’s such a time for families and it’s such a time for people being at home and spending time with loved ones, people really do feel compassion for someone who finds themselves homeless at this time of year.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times