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'I got a call from Focus Ireland inviting me to view an apartment ... it felt like heaven'

Focus Ireland launched its annual report for 2019 this morning

Catherine Keenan
Catherine Keenan
Image: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

CATHERINE KEENAN spent seven years living in homeless hostels after going through a relationship separation. 

Earlier this year, she received the keys to a one-bedroom apartment – her new home. 

“In March, I got a phone call from Focus Ireland inviting me to view a one-bedroom apartment. I was over the moon when I saw it, it felt like heaven,” Keenan said. 

“I was thrilled to immediately accept the offer.”

Keenan spoke at Focus Ireland’s annual report launch today and shared her experience of securing accommodation with the charity’s help. 

Covid-19 restrictions were put in place across the country around the same time Keenan got the keys to her new home. 

“Despite this, the staff in Focus Ireland and Mount Brown Hostel where I was staying worked together to arrange for me to sign for the lease,” she said. 

Later speaking to TheJournal.ie, she explained that she had stayed in various hostels through her seven years of homelessness, an experience which she described as “horrible”.

Reflecting on having a place to call home now, Keenan said she “can’t explain what it feels like”. 

“I love having my own home and I’m enjoying the simple pleasures like making a slice of toast or having a family visit,” she said during today’s launch. 

While enjoying the comforts of her new home, Keenan described how she is still coming to terms with finally having her own place: “Sometimes I’m in town shopping and I start worrying about where I’ll sleep that night until I remember I have a home.” 

“I worry now about the others who don’t have that security,” she said. 

Keenan now hopes to further her education and go to college. 

“Things are looking a lot better for me,” she said. 

Annual report

Focus Ireland today announced that it helped a record number of 1,790 households to avoid homelessness or leave homelessness last year. 

This figure includes 1,150 households which the charity helped support out of homelessness and 640 households where its interventions avoided them becoming homeless in the first place. 

Of the 1,150 households supported out of homelessness, 810 were families with children, a 62% increase compared with over 500 the previous year. 

Overall last year, a total of 14,200 people engaged with Focus Ireland services. 

425 young people were supported by Focus Ireland youth services and another 425 adults were supported through the charity’s preparation for education training and employment programme. 

Over 5,000 people were provided with advice and information. 

Latest emergency accommodation figures for August show that there are now collectively 8,702 people in homeless accommodation. This was a slight decrease on the 8,728 people homeless in July. 

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There were an extra five adults – 6,082 people – homeless last month but there were 31 fewer children – 2,620 children – in emergency accommodation.

The small fall in numbers this month follows a trend which began in March with a drop in the number of homeless people in Ireland. 

However, charities have in recent weeks warned that these gains will be reversed after the government lifted the moratorium on evictions and rent freezes.

Speaking at today’s launch, Focus Ireland founder Sr Stanislaus Kennedy said: “I really do believe Covid-19 can be a turning point in the fight against homelessness as they government can learn from the effectiveness of rent freezes and the ban on evictions. 

“Strong preventative measures will make a firm commitment that people who are homeless during lockdown will not be expected to return to the streets or emergency accommodation but will be offered homes through an expanded Housing First programme.”

Housing First primarily caters for adults and has already housed people who would have been seen as the most entrenched, longstanding rough sleepers – those who may have been on the streets for years and completely lost touch with the system.

“As the country learns how to live with Covid-19 we must all make sure that homelessness must not be allowed to become part of the new normal,” Sr Kennedy said. 

“We need to move on from short-term measures to provide more social and affordable rental housing. All of us at Focus Ireland firmly believe that homelessness can be ended,” she said. 

“We know what is working and also have a very clear vision of what needs to be done, not just by the government, but all parties concerned in order to end this crisis.”

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