For the last 10 years the staff at Damien House have been working with the most vulnerable people in our society on a daily basis.
Christmas Day is no different for the support workers in Damien House who work tirelessly for men with addictions.
This year, as in every other year, they will try to make Christmas as homely as possible for the men who are unable to return home.
Many of them have burned bridges with their own families as a result of their addiction.
Others simply can’t spend the day with their families because they can’t go the day without alcohol, they have a physical need for it. Some of the men simply have nobody.
The staff at Damien House become a replacement family for their residents and treat them with true compassion.
Gerry Burns, manager of Damien House, admits that if he needed a replacement family at this time of year he would look no further than his own staff.
“It is not material things our residents haven’t got. Over Christmas we may have people in detox because they are lonely and have nowhere else to go. For these people alcohol is a problem, but loneliness is a bigger problem.
“Many of their families would like it to be different and probably would be spending time together, but these men just can’t stop drinking.
“It is sad for the relatives to watch. They don’t want to see their loved ones spending their day here, but necessity dictates it is probably better all round.”
Damien House have big plans for the future and hope to create two further crisis beds for the most vulnerable people. These will cater for those who are not suitable to be part of the main hostel.
The staff must continually train in order to be able to meet the needs of the residents. An emerging problem is more young people, women and those with drug addictions finding themselves homeless.
Gerry says that at the moment Damien House has the ‘luxury of being an alcohol hostel but the lines are now being completely blurred between drugs and alcohol. For some they do alcohol with a small a and drugs with a capital D.’
Lexi Doherty, support worker in Damien House, said that drugs were not usually an issue for the residents when the hostel initially opened.
‘With the older school of street drinkers, there was a code of honour and they were very much anti drugs. They would have drank themselves to death but drugs were a big no, no. Ninety nine per cent of the original people we worked with are dead. Some of those on the street today are never going to see 30 never mind 50.’
In the last year alone, Damien House has helped in the region of 130 men through their detox unit and crisis beds.
The homeless strategy in the city has been hugely successful. So successful that no one is sleeping rough in the city tonight out of necessity.
‘The rough sleepers strategy has effectively eradicated rough sleeping in this city.
“Our plans could work in other cities and they should be copying what we have done’ added Gerry.
This is in part thanks to the Night Support Service which was established in 2008.
This service operates seven days a week to help those in danger of rough sleeping. They quickly identify the needs of individuals with complex housing needs and provide them with shelter.
Paul McCartney from the Night Support Service, explained that his team remains the ‘eyes and ears on the street’.
“It is an ongoing extra layer of support for those in need even on Christmas day. Once the temperature drops it focuses our minds more. One rough sleeper is one too many so our levels of vigilance are increased.
“We might come across someone in a doorway on Christmas Eve. Family pressures at Christmas time or the pressure of not having the money to cover the cost of Christmas might lead someone out to the street.
“Because of the services available in Derry, we don’t have the same problems as other cities.’
“Homelessness isn’t just for Christmas. This doesn’t stop, it is a 365 days a year thing. Homelessness doesn’t discriminate.”
For the staff in Damien House and the Night Support Service the person in need is at the heart of everything they do.