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'It's not sustainable': Offaly's only emergency homeless shelter risks closure over funding

Midlands Simon Community’s emergency shelters are running at a deficit of €176,000 a year.

Image: Vereshchagin Dmitry via Shutterstock

THE ONLY EMERGENCY accommodation for homeless people in Co Offaly, which serves Westmeath, Longford and Laois, is facing closure because it’s not being provided with enough funding to cover costs.

Midlands Simon Community runs two six-bed shelters, one in Athlone and one in Tullamore. The shelters will end up closing in 2018 if funding is not increased soon, according to its chief executive Tony Riordain.

Both shelters receive €230,000 a year to operate. However, Midlands Simon receives just €134,000 for its Tullamore shelter (€86,000 from Offaly County Council and €48,000 from the HSE) and just €150,000 for its Athlone shelter (€102,000 from Westmeath County Council and €48,000 from the HSE).

Overall, the emergency shelters are running at a deficit of €176,000 a year.

Each bed costs €25 per night, meaning Midlands Simon must raise €300 per day.

“We’ve torn back absolutely everything. There’s only one staff member working at any one time now,” Riordain said.

It’s a service that’s deeply compassionate and deeply needed.

Speaking of the prospect of the shelters shutting down, Riordain said: “It’s a situation that we don’t even want to contemplate. There isn’t another service who could take over, we are the only provider of emergency accommodation in Offaly.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Housing said that it “keeps funding needs under review on an ongoing basis”. 

It said this was evident by the fact that to date in 2017 almost €1 million in funding has been provided to the Midlands region.

Rural neglect

Riordain said that the Midlands is facing a different challenging in its homeless services than that of the major cities – the services are available but the funding isn’t available to run them effectively.

“In the Midlands, the challenge is that the services are there but they’re just too under-resourced,” he said.

Homelessness in rural areas are neglected and far less visible than that in towns and cities, and because of this, the issue often gets forgotten about, Riordain said.

“Another challenge is that there’s an image that people are sleeping in shop fronts and doorways in cities,” he said.

It’s not as visible in rural Ireland. We’ve had people sleeping in sheds and bridges before they have come to us for support.

The Department of Housing’s latest figures show that there were 78 homeless adults in the Midlands in October. 51 children in the Midlands were homeless last month.

Riordain is calling on the public to donate money towards the services so that they can make every effort to remain open. He said that unless the government provide funding immediately, it could shut down in the new year.

Unless the financial deficit is addressed in terms of emergency accommodation, it won’t stay open for the entirety of 2018. It’s just not sustainable and we’re not being dramatic.

“This service wouldn’t have stayed open only for the public’s support in the Midlands,” Riordain said.

“We’re appealing for people to support our emergency services. Even if you could give €25 to keep one bed open per night, it would make a difference.”

Read: Man who was sleeping rough in Ranelagh dies after being found unresponsive

More: Second homeless man dies in Dublin this week

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