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Dublin: 14°C Saturday 8 May 2021

'We woke up in a tent last Christmas, now we have a home'

Simon Coveney opened new housing units for people who were homeless in Dublin today.

CHRISTMAS 2014 AND 2015 couldn’t have been more different for Nicole and Derek.

The couple had been homeless for six years before getting the keys to their own apartment in December.

nic Minister Coveney meeting Nicole and Derek Source: Órla Ryan

“Last year me and Derek actually woke up in a tent in Fairview Park (on Christmas Day 2014). We were sleeping there, we had nowhere to stay, there were no hostels, they gave us a sleeping bag.

This Christmas we were able to spend it together in a nice home in a nice environment, out of the cold, so it was lovely – really, really nice. I hugged Derek straight away. We were like kids.

Nicole and Derek are two of the residents in Sophia’s new apartment block on Seán McDermott Street Lower in Dublin city centre.

The housing units are now home to several people who had been homeless due to a complex range of issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health issues.

NO FEE SOPHIA HOUSING 11 Derek and Nicole Source: Marc O'Sullivan

Nicole (23) says she is doing “great” after a difficult few years.

I have all the support here. I have key workers, loads of people to help me. Whereas before I didn’t know where to go.

Despite welcoming the Housing Minister Simon Coveney into their new home, Nicole says she is still angry with the government.

I still feel like nothing’s been happening. I look at it on the telly, I read the papers every day. I could have been still one of those people [still on the streets]. I’m very lucky I got this place.

She still meets some of her friends who are homeless, noting: “I feel so sorry for them.”

Derek is now doing a course and says having structure has helped him turn his life around.

“Things are grand now, compared to the way they were. Now things are great.”

When they heard they were getting their own place, he says they were overwhelmed by a “feeling of joy”.

NO FEE SOPHIA HOUSING 3 Simon Coveney Source: Marc O'Sullivan

Jonathan, another service user, thanked Sophia’s employees for their “terrific” work and support.

I didn’t think we’d get into Sophia because of my past but they looked past that and welcomed us with open arms. We were delighted, over the moon. I couldn’t believe my luck – 11 years of being homeless and Sophia housing reward us with a beautiful, very spacious apartment. Since I’ve moved in I’ve put on three-and-a-half stone and got a bit of colour back into my face and I’m not feeling tired anymore.

Coveney was there to officially open the apartment block.

Speaking at the launch, Sophia founder Sr Jean Quinn told him: “Minister, I could stand here and eloquently tell you the statistics on homelessness but I believe at this stage you are well convinced of the urgency and need for housing for all tho who find them homeless.”

She said Sophia’s model leads to sustainable results due to the support system residents have access to.

Coveney noted that, while doing an interview outside the building, two people “in pretty blunt language, said to me the government need to do more for homeless people, and they’re right – we do”.

He said the housing-first approach used by the charity is one he wants to replicate, stating: “It is really a template for what we need to provide.”

‘Talk is cheap’

Speaking about the government’s new housing and homelessness strategy, due to be launched next month, Coveney said: “The only thing I’m interested in, to be perfectly honest with you, is better outcomes.

To be honest with you, talk is cheap. My job is to try and deliver for you. I can’t do everything immediately, and people will have to show some patience in terms of the journey that we need to progress now.

Coveney said results are needed this year and next, not four or five years down the line.

The Sophia project on Seán McDermott Street Lower was funded by the Capital Assistance Scheme from the then Department of Housing and Local Government and in partnership with Dublin City Council.

The existing building was refurbished from 36 single-bed accommodation units into 18 self-contained, one-bedroom apartments for single people and couples requiring intensive support to live independently.

The charity provides 262 units of accommodation to 314 people, including 112 children, and supports 35 people in their own homes at its projects in Dublin city and county, (Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown, south Dublin and Fingal), Cork city, Limerick (regeneration), Sligo (Tubbercurry) and Wicklow (Greystones), and provides outreach support services to many others.

Read: Homeless couple spend night in tent outside Regency Hotel after dispute over room

Read: Court hears of homeless drug addict turning his life around while in prison

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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