Project set up to offer a “new start” on the housing journey
A LOCAL organization that has been tackling homelessness in Northern Ireland since the late 1980s has launched a project to give people a fresh start, no matter what stage they are in their housing journey .
The First Housing Association’s New Beginnings Project is funded by the Homeless Prevention Fund and provides a variety of tools to help service users start and maintain a tenancy.
“There are a small number of grants that can be used to help service users who are struggling financially and at risk of losing their tenancies,” said Maria Thompson, Floating Support Coordinator at First Housing.
“The mental health of many service users deteriorated during the pandemic, and through this project we have secured money to hire a counselor to help restore that balance.
“This is important because poor mental health is one of the causes of homelessness.
“Other service users have been bereaved by Covid, suffered job losses and extreme isolation, and need emotional support to deal with the impacts of these important life events. ”
Maria says the impacts of Covid-19 on homelessness are only starting to show because during the closures the original goal was to stay home, so the government responded quickly to house anyone who showed up like homeless.
The measure put in place “masked all the effects” of the pandemic, according to Maria, and she adds: “When they end, as they start to do, we will see an increase in the levels of homelessness among those who were homeless. – sheltered at the start of the pandemic and were temporarily housed, as well as those who present themselves as new homeless.
Whether incidental or reactive, the pandemic has brought about many changes in the private rental sector including rent increases, increased rent arrears, increased number of landlords selling properties, increased demand. for any affordable property available, and a decrease in the number of properties available for rental.
While the stereotypical image of someone lying in a sleeping bag in a storefront is not the type of homelessness seen in Fermanagh, Maria describes the problem of ‘hidden homelessness’ in the county.
“Restless sleep is not very common in Fermanagh, as visually evidenced, and as evidenced by regular restless sleep counts conducted by the Northern Ireland Housing Execitove (NIHE).
“In addition to the statutory response from NIHE and that of voluntary organizations such as First Housing and Action For Children, the local community is very responsive when they see someone sleeping on the street.
“What we mainly experience in Fermanagh is hidden homelessness – in other words, we don’t see it, and unless it has been highlighted, most people do. are not aware. This includes people who sleep in cars / vans, abandoned outbuildings, “couch surfs” or who stay with friends and family indefinitely. ”
Part of the problem of tackling homelessness is the lack of affordable properties in Fermanagh, and it is proving difficult for organizations such as First Housing to secure properties for those who identify themselves as homeless, with a record number of calls to inquire about rental properties they have seen advertised.
First Housing offers a range of housing services, including accommodation services and non-housing-based services, helping service users address homelessness and the root cause of their homelessness, such as drug addiction, mental health, debt, lack of independent living skills, abuse, trauma and family estrangement.
While service users are generally vulnerable adults and families, there are specialized services specifically for young people aged 16-18.
“At Fermanagh, we provide support to anyone facing homelessness or housing difficulties over the age of 18, with an 89-year-old man being our oldest user of services to date.”
Maria says that just as there are many causes and pathways to homelessness, there must be a variety of strategies and approaches that provide a way out, the most important of which is the interagency response.
“More government investment is needed to embark on a strong construction program that makes social housing accessible to more people.
“But just as homelessness is not simply homelessness, work in health and justice services must focus on treating mental health issues and addictions, and helping to rehabilitate them. delinquent and anti-social behavior, ”concluded Maria. .
Funding for The New Beginnings project continues until March 2022.