Mags Gargan visits a homeless service offered by Crosscare, the social care agency of the Dublin archdiocese
This is Elizabeth’s first Christmas in her own home in quite a number of years. She is an elegant, dignified, well spoken lady that completely shatters the stereotypical image of a homeless person. She is perhaps the new face of the homelessness created by the recession, where the average person can suddenly find themselves on hard times.
”If you had told me a year ago that I would be homeless I wouldn’t have believed it,” she says. ”Even my family shudder when they think of it, they are absolutely appalled by the idea. Some of them tell me to keep it hush and not to tell the other members of the family.”
Elizabeth moved in with her sister after a relationship break-up, but four years later this arrangement became untenable.
”It was about August 28, we had a huge fight, it was her house and she told me to leave and never come back and I found myself homeless,” she explains.
It is a terrifying prospect for Elizabeth to be suddenly homeless and vulnerable, with no idea where to turn to next. ”I was in total fear and trepidation, and got very anxious”.
Luckily she was put in touch with the Central Placement System in Dublin’s Capel Street where ”the lady scribbled on a piece of paper 62 Amien Street” and she found herself being welcomed to a Crosscare homeless service.
Crosscare has been responding to the needs of people on the margins of society since 1941. It offers a range of services for the homeless (accommodation and food initiatives), community outreach and young people’s services.
In recent years, it has seen a change in dynamic in the clients needing their support with the impact of the recession forcing people out of their homes.
”There are a lot of people walking through the door that you would never expect, people who have little or no support from friends and family,” says Kelly Faughnan, deputy manager at Amiens St.
”A number of clients have lost jobs, had a breakdown in relationships or lost their home because they weren’t able to be pay their mortgage, and they ended up with nowhere to go.”
”A lot of times people will have stayed with friends, and sometimes they will have outstayed their welcome, and sometimes they will leave before that happens rather than end a friendship.
”I would definitely say the recession has had a huge impact. People often feel ashamed that they have ended up in this situation and don’t want family members to know that they are living in homeless accommodation. They stay here and try to get themselves sorted and never tell their family where they have been. Many of the people living here would have owned businesses and had successful careers, but they lost their job and things spiraled from there.”
Crosscare on Amiens St provides temporary emergency accommodation (TEA) with 40 beds for men, women and couples. It was originally Amien Street night shelter in No. 61 and then in August it took over No. 62 from Dublin City Council, and has now amalgamated the two into one building.
No. 62 is considered supported temporary accommodation (STA) for clients with higher support needs, such as drug or alcohol addictions or mental illness, while most of the clients in No. 61 have little or no support needs and are literally ready to move into housing as soon as it is sourced.
”Most of the clients are ready to move out to private rented accommodation and are on the housing list but there are no houses,” Kelly explains.
”We are trying to source accommodation through Threshold, we help them link in with the social welfare, or anyone that can help them move out into their own accommodation.
”Each couple or individual is allocated a key worker who links in with them roughly three times a week, and they would fill out a holistic needs assessment, basically a book on their life, so we can put in a support plan that would benefit the person.
”We also try to put the supports in place so that when they do move out that they would be able to stay in their own accommodation forever, rather than coming back through the cycle again.”
”I was assigned a lovely key worker called Martha,” says Elizabeth.
”At first I had a few disappointments where the landlord pulled out, and another where the board of directors decided I didn’t qualify.
”I went to see a TD, I did whatever I could, as someone says leave no stone unturned so I put in the footwork. There have been challenging times — just the waiting game, I had to be patient.”
The facilities at Amiens Street are of very high quality, and more comfortable than many tourist hostels in the city. The service offers basic breakfast food, and most clients cook for themselves in the shared kitchens. There are shared living areas and the bedrooms are simple but comfortable.
”We offer somewhere safe, clean and homely. It is so important and a big part of our work to make sure the place is the best possible facility you can provide, to make it less like a hostel, so people can say I lived there, I didn’t just stay there. The people who live here are fantastic, and that’s what they deserve.”
This was Amiens Street’s first Christmas as a 24-hour service and they made it as special and festive as possible for their clients, with decorations and a full Christmas dinner.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s patience has paid off and she finally moved into her own accommodation the week before Christmas.
”I remember sitting in Focus Ireland where I go for great, reasonable food and I got a call from Kate in Threshold. She wanted me to look at a place on Sean McDermott Street.
”It seemed a lovely building and it ticked all the boxes. I was really excited and I just couldn’t believe it. It was lovely and clean and the landlady was very friendly and kind. It just met all my needs.
”I thank God for places like Crosscare. It is just absolutely amazing and they went out of their way to help me,” she says. ”To have my own little place is just a miracle and I am very grateful.”