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Homeless teens: 'Coming out of care, they don't know how to clean, how to wash'

Cork Foyer looks after young people aged 18 – 25.

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Some teens need help with things the rest of us would find very basic – cooking, washing, cleaning

WHERE DO HOMELESS teenagers go?

Fresh out of State care, out of prison, told to leave home, abused, or troublesome, with addiction issues or without, teenagers and young people can find themselves without a home.

If they are in Cork, there are a handful of options for those under-18:

  • Liberty Street House
  • Good Shepherd Services (for females)
  • Pathways (for adolescent boys)

If you’re aged 18 – 25, another option is Cork Foyer – but there are only so many people it can take in. Owned and managed by Cork City Council, it was officially opened in 2006.

Where it differs from some other services is that it’s transitional accommodation designed to help people move on to more permanent accommodation.

We strive to develop independent living skills through integrated training programmes and clear cut support plans, empowering young adults to realise their full potential and take their rightful place in the community.

What the centre is like

Foyer is home to young adults aged from 18 – 25. They pay rent to stay there and are assessed before they move in, to see if they’re suitable.

“They can live here up to two years – we aim to get them moved on in six to eight months,” says Barry Waddingham, manager of Foyer in Cork. “The longer they stay, the more they rely on us.”

People end up there for various reasons – one set of twins had to move to Foyer as their grandmother, who was their guardian, died, and they had nowhere to go.

Inside the building – which is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – there’s an IT room, bedrooms, a kitchen, a recreation room with pool table, and bedrooms.

One outside space in the building, which was lying unused, is being painted and decorated by the teens.

Residents are helped to progress their education, so college training programmes and FETAC programmes are available.

The centre also has a casual trader’s licence, and they make foodstuffs to sell locally. The day we visit, the kitchen smells of fresh fruit from earlier jam-making.

Improving self-esteem

On the walls are posters proudly outlining the skills of the residents. It’s a way, explains Waddingham, of acknowledging people’s talents and encouraging communication.

It’s not just accommodation on site – to help the centre residents integrate with the local community in, there’s a playpark, pet farm, allotments, woodwork shop and café. It’s a friendly place, and local businesses call in to the brightly-lit café for lunch or coffee.

opening Opening day Source: Cork Foyer

Issues with foster care

One huge issue for Waddingham is the care system, and what he describes as a lack of preparation for young people in care. He sees it too with foster families.

I cannot understand why, when foster parents taken on a child they are being paid, and are not asked to do independent living skills [with them]. [Some youths here] don’t know how to clean, or wash. Some families do not give enough preparation for leaving care. It’s a big public concern.

Some teens arrive needing help with things the rest of us would find very basic, like cooking, washing, and cleaning. There is a Foyer booklet on this that they work through from start to finish, to equip them with new skills needed to live on their own.

Waddingham believes foster parents should be able to work with young people on  modules like these with them – and not have them leave care unable to look after themselves.

He also speaks about the need for supervision when young people leave prison, and better aftercare for teens leaving care.

For all the work Foyer does, it can only do so much for a certain amount of teenagers.

And it can’t take in every teen with issues – it’s for teenagers who appear to be able to move on.

So there’s a gap there that they are aware of.

“The ultimate is to have a person move into independent living,” says Waddingham.

A success for us is to try and get someone into college; finish their Leaving Cert or Junior Cert. So many huge success return back to the parents.

The residents pay rent, and this isn’t something that is always paid easily. There’s a warning system where teens get marks for behaviour, commitment, and rent.

In some cases, they have to go to the post office with people go and make sure they pay for the €35 a week for rent from their benefits.

They try to keep rent on par with private rented accommodation, and can put payment plans in place for when people do move on.

Challenges facing residents

After Foyer, some move on to private rented accommodation, or get help from housing association schemes, while others go back home.

There are many challenges facing these youths.

“If they work, they lose their rent allowance,” is one example Waddingham gives.

He says that youths with an intellectual disability are “the most difficult people to move on because they will always need support”. This is because some people don’t qualify for services like Cope, but “don’t have the ability to live independently”.

What they need is specialised housing, or sheltered housing, and this just isn’t provided for them.

Some of the young people have, or had, substance misuse issues. “We don’t take a young person who is currently using,” explains Waddingham. “It’s about engaging them at the right time.”

They can have visitors and can come and go as they like. The staff want them to have “as much normality as possible”.

Need for help with transition

There is a huge need for transitional accommodation and support housing, Waddingham says, adding that he feels government need to step in there.

He says that most youths want to live alone, but due to the lack of accommodation it’s hard to get them a single home.

“Trying to get them to share is really difficult.”

While the drop in rent supplement is decried by some, he actually thinks it has made a positive difference as there is “less money in their pocket to spend on booze”.

Education issues

Ironically, despite the push for educating the young people at Foyer, things don’t always run easily when it comes to helping them move on.

Waddingham says that there should be a rent supplement top up for when they move into accommodation for educational purposes, as many youths find that they can’t start college as they simply don’t have the money.

“It’s soul-destroying,” he says of seeing this happen.

One girl at Foyer wanted to attend a dance academy in London, and had to get money from the Education and Training Board and a free lunch at college to ensure she could attend.

It’s a crazy situation that is becoming more to the forefront.

He is also concerned about the teens who don’t get into Foyer. There aren’t enough services for them.

There is also a concern about Cork City Council and what devolved funding will mean for Foyer. One thing they don’t want it to mean is a drop of funding for Foyer – particularly when there’s such a pressing need for services like it.

Are you a homeless teenager in Cork? More information on your options can be found here.

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Read all of our Homeless Ireland coverage here>

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