Community: Larne’s Simon Community working at 100 per cent capacity

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Hope for homeless over Christmas

The Larne hostel belonging to homeless charity The Simon Community is perpetually running at 100 per cent occupancy as Christmas approaches.

Left to right: The Simon Community's Accommodation and Community Support worker Sarah Warnock pictured with  Team Leader of Simon Community Services in the North Kerry McWilliams. INLT-52-700-con

Left to right: The Simon Community's Accommodation and Community Support worker Sarah Warnock pictured with Team Leader of Simon Community Services in the North Kerry McWilliams. INLT-52-700-con

According to Team Leader of Simon Community Services in the North Kerry McWilliams, the charity has experienced a dramatic increase in demand for its services over the past five years.

Kerry told The Times: “Larne has 18 beds and 10-15 community-based clients. In Larne there is 100 per cent occupancy all the time. There has been immediate refill of empty beds for as long as I can remember. We’ve never had beds sitting empty. Sometimes we barely have time to get the room cleared and the bed remade.”

The charity aims to prevent homelessness before it occurs through its community-based support services. When this is not possible, it provides emergency accommodation-based support with the ultimate aim of helping people achieve independent living.

Kerry says there are several reasons for the sharp rise in homelessness, including a delayed reaction to the recession. She continued: “The stereotypical homeless person has an addiction to drugs and alcohol but that’s not what we are seeing every day.

“Fifty per cent of our clients are under 25 and the biggest reason for homelessness is family breakdown. In a marriage and family breakdown there are men in their forties and fifties who don’t have the skills to live independently. We teach them life skills such as cooking.”

The charity offers a support plan to help them get back on their feet. Areas covered include economics, living healthily, mental and physical health, social networks, training and education, safety and security, making a positive contribution to the community, moving on to their own residence and self-care and living skills.

The Simon Community is open 365 days a year, and staff will be on hand to cater to the needy on Christmas day.

The charity works with a range of other support services, and can refer or signpost service users to counselling and other services where needed.

“Its trained staff can also provide mediation and there is a harm reduction team.

Accommodation and community support worker Sarah Warnock commented: “People are more likely to seek help at Christmas, not only within the project itself but also for community-based support.

“There are relationship stresses and breakdowns, people dealing with loss and bad feelings over Christmas and they need that extra bit of support to get through it.

“We work with other groups in the Larne area. As well as Larne Mission Hall providing a Christmas dinner and entertainment for residents, we get food from FareShare and great help from the food bank with food, cosy blankets and sleeping bags, tea and coffee.

“Ballyclare Women’s Association donated personal hygiene products such as soap and shampoo.

“It means that people can come here and enjoy tea and coffee, a nice shower and clean themselves up.”

Kerry says that seeing the change in their clients’ lives makes the team’s efforts worthwhile.

She recalled: “There was one case where a young girl had been expelled from school for assault and she also had a bad home environment and took drugs. “In June last year she came down to see us with a bunch of flowers and a thank you card.

“She’s now been accepted to university.”

For service-user Thomas, aged 21, the Simon Community was literally a life-saver.

“After being put out of his family home due to a dispute, he says he would have ended up on the streets without the charity’s help.

Thomas commented: “The Simon Community have been brilliant.

“I am looking to get into youth work and they have been helping me get the contacts with a group.

“I am aiming to find a place in a house share. Without the Simon Community’s help I would probably be on the streets, and that’s the truth.”

To contact The Simon Community, telephone their central access point on 08001712222.