Protecting the vulnerable at home and abroad

Protecting the vulnerable at home and abroad Photo: Sasko Lazarov
Acting Today for a Brighter Tomorrow – 2020 Legacy Supplement
Chai Brady hears from charities working to help people through homelessness, poverty, violence and the Covid-19 pandemic

Irish charities are facing many difficulties trying to overcome the unique challenges wrought by the current pandemic, but many have devised creative solutions to continue helping those most in need both at home and overseas.

A large part of many Irish charities’ income comes in the form of legacy donations, in which people leave a gift to one or several named charities in their will. This has helped them continue their good works and endure despite Covid-19’s devastating effects.

With Ireland in the midst of level 5 restrictions, Focus Ireland are still delivering services for the homeless and those badly impacted by the pandemic. It’s undeniable that everyone has faced challenges due to the steps taken by Government in order to reduce the spread of the virus but people struggling with homelessness or who are in precarious housing situations have had unique obstacles and tribulations with a huge increase in calls for Focus Ireland’s help.

Focus Ireland

Amy Carr, the Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Focus Ireland, tells The Irish Catholic that throughout the pandemic they’ve kept their frontline services open in line with restrictions and have welcomed the Government’s further moratorium on evictions.

“I think the safety of our customers – we call them customers and Sr Stan called them customers, because it gives them more rights and entitlements – was really paramount and from the very, very beginning making sure that our customers were really at the front and centre of everything that we did was really important,” she says.

“It’s very hard for people who are living in emergency accommodation or hotels or congregate settings to do that kind of social distancing, to stay safe, to stay in their own homes, especially when they don’t have one. We’ve put a lot of focus initially in making sure that we were engaging with our customers in a very Covid friendly way.

“We kept all our frontline essential services open taking into consideration the restrictions, I suppose Covid-19 is difficult on everybody but for people who are homeless they’re particularly vulnerable. There are more challenges around that.”

Rental protections

While the initial Government rental protections, including the ban on eviction notices and rent increases, ended on August 1, Focus Ireland welcomed this being reintroduced at the beginning of level 5 for six weeks, up until January 10.

Ms Carr explained: “We can actually keep people in their homes and so they can stay safe during Covid-19. We were able to move a lot of families out of homelessness into accommodation that would have been holiday lets previously short-term lettings.”

Some of these holiday lets would have been Airbnb accommodations, with the charity negotiating longer term lets for vulnerable tenants which have allowed them to move a lot of families out of homelessness. However, there are concerns that this could change once the worst of the pandemic has passed.

“We as an organisation would be very focused on those gains that we’ve made during Covid-19 as we come out to make sure that we don’t get a second wave of homelessness… that those people who would have been homed during Covid-19 don’t end up going back into homelessness,” Ms Carr says.

“That would be something our advocacy team would be very keen on pressing with the Government, and they have been talking to the minister about the concerns and that we don’t lose some of the gains that we’ve made.”

The charity does a lot of work assisting people who are already homeless but there is also a lot of work done in terms of prevention, with the charity noting “a huge increased demand” on their advice and information phone lines – up to 160% according to Ms Carr.

She says there are many calls coming in from “people who had either been laid off and a lot of people concerned about not being able to pay their rent and what would that mean”.

“So a lot of people who probably never even considered themselves at risk of homelessness suddenly were in completely uncharted water – lots of uncertainty – and really worried about how they were going to pay their rents and keep their accommodation secure.

“Our team has worked really hard around that time to make sure everybody knew their rights and entitlements and about the moratorium on eviction, what that meant, really I suppose we would always encourage our tenants to have open conversation with landlords whoever they may be and to keep the dialogue open.”

Annual Report

According to the charity’s 2019 Annual Report, they helped a record number of 1,790 households to avoid homelessness or leave homelessness last year. This figure includes 1,150 households which Focus Ireland helped support out of homelessness and 640 households where the charity’s interventions avoided them becoming homeless in the first place. Of the 1,150 households supported out of homelessness, 810 were families with children, a 62% increase compared with over 500 the previous year.

Ms Carr says that there’s a lot of people worried about what next year will bring, whether Ireland is heading into recession and whether people will be able to get back to work.

“People are worried about how they’re going to survive Covid-19 and what that means in terms of the safety and security of their home,” Ms Carr says.

“One of the things that we always say: Focus Ireland isn’t just for people who are homeless, although obviously that’s a big part of the work that we do, but if people feel worried or concerned, maybe they’ve missed a bill payment, they should call us and call us as early as possible because the sooner we can help people the better I suppose the outcomes generally are, we’re able to really support them to make sure that they don’t become homeless, that they don’t worry, because it causes a lot of stress for families, for parents as well as everything else that they’re doing.”

When the virus first hit Ireland, the charity realised they were going to have to cancel a lot of their physical events, which meant much of their fundraising over the year would be direly compromised.

The challenges facing Ireland’s vulnerable people are monumental and almost all-consuming, which can pull attention away from what is happening abroad in countries”

However, due to early decisions, for example, they moved one of their biggest campaigns which is their biggest source of revenue, Shine a Light, online. Despite the decrease in physical events and activities, the support for the events the charities can do has been “absolutely incredible” Ms Carr says.

“I never cease to be amazed by how generous people are especially at times where they’re probably facing uncertainty and people worrying about work and jobs, but people give what they can,” she says.

“We’ve had our best ever Shine a Light night, which was brilliant and we did everything online and we connected people through technology so I think we’ve looked at how we can still fundraise and we’ve tried to be as creative as possible about it. Last year we raised €1.15 million through Shine a Light night and I think we’re up to about €1.75 million today.”

The challenges facing Ireland’s vulnerable people are monumental and almost all-consuming, which can pull attention away from what is happening abroad in countries that have nowhere near the ability of Ireland to cope with the upheaval caused by the pandemic.


Goal are at the forefront of the crisis in 13 countries and have faced a “particular challenge” in navigating and pre-empting the fallout of lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions while continuing to provide assistance.

Courtenay Pollard, Trust and Foundations Manager at Goal, tells The Irish Catholic that, as with all international crisis, the most vulnerable are “bearing the worst ravages of it”.

She says: “First, in circumstances where the most sophisticated and well-funded health systems in the world have been overwhelmed, imagine the impact on countries with suboptimal or even non-existent healthcare provision.

“In some of our countries of operation, people are simply dying in their homes without engaging their health system whatsoever. Another major challenge is the fact that the fight against Covid-19 is resulting in the relegation of other humanitarian priorities. Chief amongst these is global hunger, with the UN World Food Programme recently predicating that as many as 138 million people worldwide are facing desperate food shortages as their livelihoods evaporate, particularly around sub-Saharan Africa.”

To date, in the countries Goal operate, they have reached over 17 million people with Covid-19 related messaging and supports.

Covid-19 is another crisis for the developing world and with other serious situations still ongoing, Ms Pollard says there is a danger that other everyday struggles are being overshadowed as well as worsened by the virus.

“In addition to the very serious food security crisis underway in much of the developing world, there are a myriad of persistent development problems currently being overlooked,” she says.

“One such problem, and still of direct relevance to the pandemic, is the lack of provision for potable water and sanitation (WASH) in many of the communities we serve. Whether it be in the gut-wrenching Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp settings in Syria or Ethiopia, or in climate-change affected communities elsewhere, ensuring sufficient and safe access to running water is critical for any Covid-19 prevention hygiene regime, and obviously much more so for daily living.”

To date, in the countries Goal operate, they have reached over 17 million people with Covid-19 related messaging and supports”

Goal has made ‘WASH’ programming a major priority in all their programme countries. “In all, it is not an exaggeration to say that the pandemic has regressed years of hard-fought gains in the adequate and sustainable provision of food and water, and the livelihoods underpinning them. These most basic provisions are increasingly beyond the reach of many millions throughout the world and worsening as a result of the pandemic,” Ms Pollard adds.

The charity’s distributions of emergency aid and food needed to change to allow for social distancing. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, much of their work focused on adapting the delivery of aid to vulnerable communities so as to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus.

Community-led support

For that reason, Goal has transitioned to more community-led support. Ms Pollard says that, for example, in relation to their malnutrition programming, they offer socially distanced training to mothers in order for them to be able to assess their baby’s needs and whether their child needs acute emergency care.

This allows for minimal physical interaction with Goal staff, until such a time as their baby requires critical care. It serves to empower mothers and caregivers to be able to screen their own children giving them knowledge and tools like MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference measure) tapes.

Another example would be Zimbabwe, they have adapted the way they work by delivering awareness messaging about Covid-19 to over 6 million people and are providing safe water, sanitation and hygienic services to communities.

Both charities told this paper that legacy donations have been a key part of their ability to continue their work. Ms Carr says that some 10% of the donations they receive are from legacy donations, and that they’ve had a “very generous year” with the donations helping them “be there for as any people as possible”.

“I think it gives people who are making the legacy that kind of peace of mind, a feeling that their support continues to help us after they’ve gone and I think it gives people that confidence that their intentions carry on after as well,” she explains.

“Most of our donations that come in through legacy, what people want to do is make sure that they help as many people as possible and they trust us to do that. Most of the legacies that we get ask that we put it where it’s needed the most and that’s really helpful because that can change over time as well.”

This was particularly important, she notes, as the homelessness crisis worsened since she started in the charity and its response had to change and adapt to the situation, which to this date is still devastating vulnerable people.

For Goal, Ms Pollard says legacy donations are a “hugely valued source of funding” which allows the charity to respond more rapidly and more efficiently than would otherwise be possible in particular in the context of emergencies.

“Some donations we receive have caveats as to where the money is to be spent and how, and while this income is significant, the donations that Goal receives from thoughtful legacy gifts allow us to spend the money where we see the most immediate and critical need,” she explains.

It literally changes lives forever; a legacy  to Goal continues to make a profound difference for generations to come”

“For example, in 2019 Goal was one of the very first responders to the devastation unleashed by Cyclone Idai in southern Africa, tending to affected communities within 24 hours of the storm abating. Furthermore, having the freedom to apply this funding in less prescribed, less rigid circumstances, has also been invaluable in enabling Goal to be more adaptable and innovative in our programme responses, it allows us to help even more people. For over 40 years Goal has been working as agile first responders.”

She added that in leaving a gift to Goal, “you will help some of the most vulnerable communities to respond and recover from crisis, breakdown the barriers to their wellbeing, develop resilience and gain control over their own lives and livelihoods. It literally changes lives forever; a legacy to Goal continues to make a profound difference for generations to come”.

Irish charities have faced major challenges since the pandemic, which has added to already terrible crises at home and abroad, but it seems despite initial dilemmas they have circumvented barriers and continue to deliver life-changing and life-saving aid to those who need it most.