Limerick’s homeless are gifted a place for life

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by Alan Jacques

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Minister for Education and Skill, Jan O'Sullivan TD, and Sue Ann Foley of the JP McManus Foundation at the opening of Brother Stephen Russell House
Minister for Education and Skill, Jan O’Sullivan TD, and Sue Ann Foley of the JP McManus Foundation at the opening of Brother Stephen Russell House
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ONE of Limerick city’s oldest homeless services, Brother Stephen Russell House, re-opened the doors of its redeveloped and extended facility last Friday.

The centre, operated by Novas Initiatives on Mulgrave Street, will provide 33 units of long-term supported housing in the city. The former outdated and substandard building is no more. In its place is a completely rebuilt, redesigned and renewed site to meet the changing landscape of homelessness in Ireland.

There are a range of issues experienced by its tenants, from mental health issues to physical disabilities, alcohol and substance misuse and experience of sexual and physical abuse. The new build will cater for the physical and therapeutic needs of all tenants.

The former dormitory style accommodation is now replaced with single, ensuite rooms and clustered communal living areas. A specially designed service for those presenting with a disability has also been developed on the ground floor.

Novas’ chief executive, Michael Goulding, said that the tenants of the new facility will “no longer be considered a shelter for the homeless, a stigma many of the men have carried for more than a decade”.

“The service will provide a home for life for those who need it and will afford them dignity, privacy and security. A single unit of accommodation is the least that anyone deserves,” said Mr Goulding.

Novas Initiatives officially opened the doors of its redeveloped homeless facility as its annual report was launched, revealing a startling rise in the number of people accessing its services.

Anne Cronin, Novas’ head of homeless services said that it was “poignant” that this fantastic service was being opened on the same day that such startling figures about homelessness have been revealed in its 2013 Annual Report.

“The redevelopment of this service is one of a range of responses by Novas to the national crisis,” said Ms Cronin.

The homeless charity’s annual report revealed that it provided support and services to 2,014 Irish families, children and single adults during 2013,  an increase of 23 per cent from the previous 12 month period and a 110 per cent increase since 2010.

The report also described how, despite the increasing number of people supported, it amounted to less than 70 per cent of all those referred to its services throughout the year.

Demand they claim, far exceeds capacity. The organisation took a number of steps to tackle the issue including increasing its outreach support, developing a Housing First pilot service and expanding its building programme.

The report also highlights the young age profile of clients, with 50 per cent of those availing of residential services less than 30 years of age. In addition, some 53 per cent of those in receipt of accommodation were women.

Capital to complete Brother Stephen Russell House was provided by the JP McManus Foundation and the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. The Mulgrave Street site was opened last week by Sue Ann Foley, daughter of JP and chairperson of the Foundation, along with Minister for Education and former Minster for Housing, Jan O’Sullivan.