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Many ‘couch surfers' are not having fun – they are Cork's new homeless

December 22nd, 2018 11:50 AM

By Emma Connolly

‘People don't want to be recognised as homeless, especially in rural areas, so they leave and come to the city.' (Photo: Clare Keogh)

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BY supporting Cork Simon you are most certainly standing in solidarity with someone from the West Cork area and helping them in a time of crisis. 

That’s according to Paul Sheehan, communications manager with the charity which last month alone provided 1,050 hot meals to 200 people through their nightly city soup run. 

The charity, which provides homeless emergency support services, does not have a presence in West Cork – but has a growing number of West Cork users. 

The traditional cohort of people who came to them were people with complex needs. 

‘These are people who would have been failed by the State; who would have left school early; who would have had a childhood trauma etc,’ explained Paul. 

These people will need their help regardless of an economic boom or bust, he said. 

‘But now we are helping people who can’t afford to put a roof over their heads, people on rent allowance and social welfare who are locked out of the housing market before they ever look at a flat,’ he added. 

He pointed to the huge stigma associated with  homelessness, especially in rural areas of West Cork. 

‘People don’t want to be recognised as homeless, especially in rural areas so they’d leave and come to the city. 

‘Recently one of our soup run volunteers recognised someone from her home place in West Cork – they both avoided eye contact – and when he was leaving he simply said “this stays between us”.’

‘People regard homelessness as a failure. Something they’ve done when it’s a whole series of events that pushes someone into homelessness.’

The European definition of being homeless is ‘sleeping on the street’ or ‘roofless.’

However, Paul said that didn’t take into account Cork’s huge numbers of couch surfers. It’s a phrase he dislikes as it suggests, he says, something nice or fun.

‘What it really is, is moving from couch to couch until your welcome wears out, and you’re left with no choice but to come to us.’

These are the ‘new homeless,’ who they’re seeing more and more of. They’re mostly younger, although not exclusively so.

Simon mainly helps them through the soup run which started out on the streets, but now takes place indoors and sees people served a hot meal over an hour from 7pm. 

‘One in three who would come for the meal would be in private rented accommodation and would use all their resources to keep that roof over their heads. They’d be in arrears with things like utilities and have nothing left for food.’

Paul described the private rental market as a ‘mess’ and said it came down to the fact that there wasn’t enough available affordable housing. 

‘The government views housing as a commodity, but it’s a basic human need. They need to completely update the housing system as it’s broken and driving homelessness.’

Simon’s ‘staircase’ model to help is for people with complex needs to stay in their emergency accommodation before they transition to their flats and other units. 

Currently it’s completely backlogged with all services at capacity and under pressure. 

This means complex cases are stuck in the shelters for years, as their flats and other housing stock are used by the less complex cases. 

Simon has 27 flats (with a waiting list) and are social landlords for 12 other units for those exiting homelessness. ‘We rent these from landlords and then sub-let them to people and manage the tenancies. We also have five high support houses across the city with 12 to a house, for people who can’t live on their own for reasons such as poor mental health or who are institutionalised. 

These are staffed 24 hours and we have a few aftercare houses for people exiting drink and drugs programmes.’

It costs €8 to run Cork Simon each  year and there was an 18% increase in service users in 2017 – a trend which is continuing upwards.

All proceeds from a Women’s Little Christmas event hosted by Deirdre O’Kane in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery on January 5th will be used specifically for Simon’s female clients who have a ‘unique set of challenges,’ explains Paul.(See p31 for more information and ticket details).

‘Women don’t want their kids to see them in these crisis situations and they become separated from them. They can then find it difficult to maintain relationships and they break down.

‘By supporting the fundraising  event you’ll be standing with someone from your locality and you’ll be taking a moral stance,’ said Paul.  

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