Speaker for 23rd January 2018

President Mike Turner greets Fiona and Amanda from the Simon Community, with club Vice President Des Moore (R)

Coleraine Probus and the Simon Community

Coleraine Probus met Amanda and Fiona from the Simon Community when they visited the club to talk about the its work, first in Northern Ireland, and then specifically in Coleraine.

Amanda, from the main Belfast office, gave an outline of the consequences of becoming homeless and some common misunderstandings surrounding this sad state of affairs. Just about anyone, from the suited businessman with all his worldly possessions in the boot of a car, to the dishevelled drug addict sleeping on the streets, can be homeless.

Homelessness does not discriminate and there are many reasons why people lose their home. Relationship breakdowns account for over 30% of homelessness in N.I. Other reasons include: debt/financial difficulty; the shortage of affordable housing; unemployment; health problems; leaving the foster care system; having been in prison and drug or alcohol use.

Amanda wanted to emphasise that with so many reasons for people loosing the home they have lived in, along with the range of their social backgrounds and age, the Simon Community prefers to think of them as People that are Homeless, not Homeless People. The emphasis is on People, not the problem they may have.

The statistics for homelessness in Northern Ireland came as something of a surprise to club members. Of all the men and women helped by the Simon Community 74% are men, 26% women. In total, 42% are under 25 years of age. And when you look at the official statistics for the province, it does not paint a pretty picture: Proportionately, we have the worst homelessness figures in the UK. Belfast has the 2nd highest level of child poverty in the UK. The number of households that presented as homeless to the Housing Executive in the last year was 18,628 - and this is only the number of households that we are aware of, the actual figure will be much higher. The average level of savings held by NI households is £706, so in times of emergency this would not last long. 42% of households in NI report that they have no savings.

Although there are street sleepers in NI, our biggest problem is with ‘hidden homelessness’. These are the people who are not visible on our streets – these are the 'Sofa Surfers' that go from temporary / friends accommodation to another, hoping to find an answer to their problems.

Fiona, working in Coleraine, described the situation here. There are two Simon Community units, one in Lodge Road is for adults over the age of 18. The second is in Mount Street and is for young people UP TO 18 years of age. The implications of this really shocked many of the members, just how can 'children' under the age of 18 become homeless? Fiona went on to talk about the work in the local hostels, the successes and the sadder stories, but all the time the underlying message was one of hope.

Members were moved by the description of the work of the Simon Community, in many ways uncovering a story of life in our town that goes unseen to the vast majority of Coleraine residents. As this talk was the last in the club year, with a new President taking over at the AGM, the Simon Community was the chosen charity for the retiring President's year, this raised over £300 in donations from members. Both the Simon Community and the President wish to sincerely thank members for their very generous donations.

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