By Siobhán Cronin
A HOMELESS organisation has harshly criticised a change in the way people in West Cork are asked to register for assistance if they become homeless.
As a result of the change, homeless people can only access help by presenting themselves at the Council’s housing department in Clonakilty.
Up until last August, anyone finding themselves without a home could access support via their local community welfare officer, at various locations around the county. But in recent weeks, this service has been centralised in Clonakilty.
This sudden change has meant that several people in outlying areas of Ireland’s largest county are finding it difficult to access the service.
And now a local homeless charity is asking for the Council to consider providing an ‘outreach’ service so that people without transport can get easier access to the service.
‘This change, although replicated around the country, poses much more difficulty for people in rural areas,’ said Una Burns of Novas, a voluntary organisation that works with the homeless in West Cork.
‘It is a really big challenge for people as many of them cannot afford bus fares – if they are even on a bus route.’
Ms Burns added that many people accessing the service may also have addiction and/or mental health issues and this challenge is an added strain. Marie Mulholland of the West Cork Women Against Violence project also voiced her concerns regarding the changes to the system. ‘The changes to presenting as homeless are having the impact of pushing homeless people already vulnerable beyond endurance. This is not a humane system,’ she told The Southern Star.
The comments come in a week when Bantry man Timmy Hourihane was murdered in Cork city where he was living rough near the Mardyke.
But now, travelling to the city to seek assistance is no longer an option for anyone in West Cork. ‘If you go to the city and give your last address at West Cork, you will be referred back to Clonakilty,’ Ms Burns explained. ‘This is making it extremely difficult for people who may have left homes due to family issues, or violence issues,’ she said, adding it was a ‘retrograde step’ at a time when the service was already in crisis.
‘I do believe this was an unintended consequence of the change,’ said Ms Burns. She added that Novas has seen a 450% increase in requests for help since 2014, and a 44% increase in the last year alone. In June and August of this year, it had 55 cases on its books in West Cork, including 32 new referrals, and 48 of these were children.
In response, Cork County Council confirmed the change, but added: ‘The requirement to attend the Housing Office in Clonakilty, has not proved to be a significant issue to date, however, if deemed necessary, the Council’s housing officer can arrange to meet people by appointment at one of the local authority’s area offices that are located throughout West Cork.’