Breaking the cycle of homelessness

December 7th, 2021 7:05 AM

By Emma Connolly

Allison Aldred, ceo, and Sr Jane Murphy, Mission Leader of Good Shepherd Cork at one of their housing services. (Photo: Sean Jefferies)

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Two West Cork women who head up the emergency shelter Edel House say they want to do more than just provide beds. They’re looking for public support for their Christmas campaign focussed on helping children

MORE and more women and their children from West Cork are seeking help from Edel House, an emergency shelter in the city, run by Good Shepherd Cork.

Chief executive of Good Shepherd Cork, Allison Aldred, who lives in Kinsale, and mission leader, Sr Jane Murphy, from Courtmacsherry, say they are also supporting more women and families in West Cork.

That includes those who are homeless and in B&B accommodation and those who have moved on from their services to homes in West Cork but need ongoing support to maintain tenancies and avoid returning to homelessness.

Good Shepherd Cork is an independent, registered charity established in 1981. Last year they worked with 900 women and children.

Since before the current homeless crisis began in 2014 the women seeking help at Edel House were typically homeless as a consequence of other issues in their lives – a violent relationship, mental health or addiction issues, and the shelter was usually at 60% capacity. Now they are almost always full and have a waiting list.

‘And a lot of the women and families we help nowadays are those who simply can’t find an affordable home. For many of them it’s very traumatic as it’s the first time they’ve ever had to engage with a service like ours. It also means that child homelessness has really escalated,’ said Sr Jane.

At the core of what Allison, Sr Jane and their team do is strive to break the generational cycle of homelessness.

The hit Netflix series Maid put the spotlight on emergency accommodation for women and kids.


‘We went to do more than just provide a bed,’ said Allison. ‘That’s what we did for years, but now we know that additional supports are needed. We see women coming into us who would have come in as children and we’re asking ourselves was there anything we could have done differently so they wouldn’t be back here as young mums with their own kids.’

With that in mind they’re working hard to deliver therapeutic and educational supports for children in the service. ‘A high proportion of children we see have additional needs such as behavioural and communication challenges, sometimes due to early childhood traumatic experiences, so we want to be able to help with things like art, play or occupational therapy,’ said Allison.

There could be over 30 children in Redclyffe, their family hub, on a given night, and they also want to be able to provide a more calming sensory environment there for children struggling to cope with being in such busy emergency accommodation.

Allison explains how their School Connect project is working to connect with schools attended by children in their services to try to keep kids in school longer, break any stigmas and provide whatever support is needed.

‘Typically children in homeless services would miss a lot of school, some fall behind, have literacy issues and leave school early. That’s what we’re working to combat.’

They are also advocating for school transport, as lots of the children in their services may have moved a long distance from their school, and have no means to get there.

‘Children in emergency shelters in Dublin qualify for Leap cards, but we don’t have anything like that here. The ideal situation is to keep children in their own schools. We know that a stable environment is very important, and along with therapeutic services, those interventions can make a big difference in the long term,’ said Allison.

Christmas brings with it a heightened distress and anxiety for their service users, despite the generosity of Cork people to make it as pleasant an occasion as possible.

This is the second year in a row Edel House is without their annual church gate collection, due to the pandemic, and Allison and Sr Jane are calling on the public to support their children to move on from homelessness.

‘We’re calling it the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. We want to be able to give children the supports, services and assessments that can make a long term positive change in their lives; to invest in their well-being so they won’t be coming back to us despite research saying that a child who is homeless, is more likely to experience homelessness as an adult.’

A child enjoys colouring in the Edel House playroom. (Photo: Sean Jefferies)


Positively, Sr Jane highlighted the resilience of the women they encounter.

‘It would just blow you away, and so would the support of all our staff,’ she said.

She started out as a volunteer with Edel House in 1983 while working with an insurance company on the South Mall. Gradually she realised she was getting more fulfilment from that work than anything else, and she joined the Good Shepherd congregation.

When she’s not in Courtmacsherry, she lives in Knocknaheeny, and she said she’s incredibly proud of how the organisation has grown from a small start to where they are today.

‘Of course it’s also sad that there’s still a need for us, and that it’s growing more complicated all the time; but I’m proud that we’re evolving to meet that challenge.’

Allision sums it up when she recalls pre-pandemic street collections. ‘So often women would come up to us and say ‘I was a child in Edel House and I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without the safety and security it gave me.’” 

See to donate to the ‘Christmas gift that keeps on giving campaign.’

Construction work underway on the old building at Edel House.


Many services offered by Good Shepherd Cork

GOOD Shepherd Cork is the only agency in Cork that can admit and care for children who are homeless. The services it provides are:

Edel House, emergency shelter, Grattan Street: This has 10 family rooms and 18 rooms for single women. Construction of a new extension began in April 2019, which will provide residents with a much more dignified environment, with ensuite single rooms and one and two-bedroom family units and space. It’s hoped it will be complete by early next year.

Redclyffe family hub, Western Road: In mid-2018 Redclyffe, a 70-bed family hub opened to provide temporary accommodation for families who had been staying in B&B and other private emergency accommodation.

Support to families in B&B accommodation: Outreach staff work with those who cannot be accommodated at Edel House or Redclyffe as the services are at full capacity. Some 50 women and families are supported at any one time. The team also manage two apartments for vulnerable families.

Support & Advocacy service: The team works with women and families who have moved on from Edel House or Redclyffe and need on-going support to maintain their tenancies. They provide practical and emotional support as well as links to other appropriate services.

Riverview: Residential care for teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19, who are out of home. Key workers engage with them to resolve issues and to move on to independent living or to return to their families, whichever is most appropriate.

Baile an Aoire: Long-term supported housing: 30 units of supported housing for women who may not otherwise be able to sustain a tenancy.

Bruac - education and development service, Redemption Rd: This offers fresh educational opportunities to girls and women who are unable to access mainstream education.

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