NOVAS is the only housing and homeless charity working in the West Cork region and aims to provide lasting housing solutions through housing, health, and recovery.
During 2018, Novas’ West Cork service yet again set records for the number of people supported and the number of people referred to the organisation.
While these increases correlate with the national homeless crisis, homelessness in West Cork is a hidden issue with many people not counted in the official homeless statistics – they are couch surfing, victims of domestic violence or currently in hospital.
During 2018, there were 232 Novas referrals of people homeless or at risk of homelessness in West Cork.
Novas supported 184 individuals and families throughout the West Cork region covering areas from Bandon to the Mizen and Beara peninsulas, with 190 children among these households.
This is the highest number of people ever supported by Novas in West Cork. ‘Behind each statistic there are people experiencing the trauma of homelessness,’ said a spokesperson. ‘Since 2014 there have been significant annual increases in the number of people accessing our service, a rise of more than 384%. While the Novas’ West Cork service has adapted to the housing crisis, extending its services to more people than ever, the service still remains a lone-working initiative.’
The reasons people seek support from Novas are complex and multifaceted and supports are offered in line with people’s specific needs, they added. ‘Generally the increase in people accessing this service is reflective of the escalation of the homeless and the housing crisis nationally. An over-reliance of the private rental sector has resulted in huge rent increases that have forced many households into homelessness.’
In the West Cork region alone, 84 families were supported by Novas. This represented 45.7% of their total clients. The trauma of family homelessness, and the complex web of needs and issues (adverse childhood experiences) that can arise from this experience, have untold consequences for families and children.
There are heartbreaking experiences, which have resulted in families leaving the area they are connected with and embedded, due to not being able to find private rented accommodation. ‘This is all the more tragic when there are vacant properties in these West Cork towns,’ added the spokesperson. ‘Novas supports people by providing accommodation in the place they consider home. This is a key housing first principle.’
Looking at those who accessed the service in 2018 shows the extent of the homeless crisis in the West Cork area. A total of 43.5% of clients had been evicted from the private rental market (due to landlords selling, moving in to their own property, undergoing renovations, inability to pay rent), a further 23.4% were living in the family home and could not access the private rented market, 7.6% were living in overcrowded and substandard accommodation, and 7.6% accessed as a result of experiencing domestic violence.
The age profile of Novas clients in West Cork reflects the rising number of young people becoming homeless. A total of 29, or 15.8%, of clients, were aged between 18-21 years (including care leavers).
‘Evidence shows us that there are increased risks of long term chronic homelessness for young people accessing homeless services, and this certainly rings true for young people in West Cork,’ said the spokesperson.
The proportion of women seeking support from Novas represented 66%.
The presenting needs of clients accessing Novas’ West Cork service throughout the year are broad-ranging and complex, requiring intensive support underpinned by values of harm reduction, empowerment, and person-centred care. In fact, 47.8% of people accessing the service expressed struggling in terms of their mental health.
Novas says it is the first homeless and housing service in Ireland to adopt a trauma-informed care approach at all levels. ‘This provides clients with an open and trusting therapeutic relationship, a safe environment, and full choice and control of their care plans. This ensures that Novas is serving and adapting to the complex needs of our clients.’
Novas has encouraged landlords with vacant properties in West Cork to let these to people through HAP or other social housing supports. As an Approved Housing Body, Novas is active in exploring providing long-term housing in the region.
‘It would also be a huge support if people, groups, and communities would consider fundraising for Novas, as 100% of all the funds collected go directly to support those experiencing homelessness in the West Cork area and support in creating pathways out of homelessness,’ the spokesperson told The Southern Star.
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