Demand for the services of the Galway Simon Community tackling homelessness is greater than ever on the group’s 40th anniversary.
In 2018 Galway Simon supported 550 local households through their accommodation and homelessness prevention services.
This is a larger number than any seen in the organisation’s history since being founded in 1979.
Launching the group’s 2018 report, Galway Simon marked the occasion by inviting founding member Mary McPartlan and local historian Tom Kenny to take a look back over their 40 years of work in Galway.
Mary McPartlan, well-known local singer and educator, gave an insight into what it was to be involved with the Simon Community around the time it was founded.
In the early days, she said, the Simon Community was deeply involved in caring for homeless men in Galway.
People who had found themselves on the streets through alcohol problems or “through coming from broken homes, through becoming homeless in London and coming back to Galway”.
“We’re all totally aware of the horror, 35 years later, of homelessness and the health services but back then we were outraged that there weren’t special services for homeless people at that time.”
“The Simon Community in Galway, to me, became the conscience of the people”, she said.
Tom Kenny said that one of the biggest changes that has taken place in the past 40 years is the perception people have of the homeless.
He talks about how homeless people back then were thought of as ‘Vagabonds’, ‘alcoholics’, ‘down and outs’ and ‘skid row people’ and other judgmental terms.
Tom’s research into the organisation, including personal accounts from those involved over the years, will be formed into a publication as the charity marks its 40th anniversary and will acknowledge the work of the local community in helping to combat homelessness.
Speaking at the launch of the report at the Mick Lally Theatre CEO of Galway Simon Karen Golden talked about how the number of people using their services has jumped from 91 at the end of 2014 to over five hundred in December 2018.
She said that while there figures are “chilling” they don’t take into account the number of rough sleepers, couch surfers and others who are involuntarily sharing.
Karen emphasised that the vast majority of people supported by Galway Simon Community are not included in the national emergency accommodation figures.
“We have found it very challenging to work with some of our clients in the last couple of years because in the past, it was easier for us to help people to find a way out of homelessness when there was more accommodation available for them to move onto. ”
“Unfortunately, because of the housing crisis, that is no longer the case and it is now extremely difficult to move individuals and families out of homelessness”.
She acknowledged that progress is being made, but said that the slow pace of new social housing coming on stream is contributing to the homelessness crisis.