John, 65, comes to the Foyle Haven to talk.
“It’s not easy sometimes,” he says, eating his evening meal. John’s eyes fill up with tears when he says he likes having someone to talk to. You can tell he’s known loneliness.
In the same breath, he says: “I love it here.”
He’s talking to his friend Raymond, and the others who’ve filed into the John Street Centre for alcoholics and street drinkers on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. The conversation moves from mobile phones, to a broken TV, to the bingo which will run in the centre later that evening.
In recent weeks, all of this routine has been in jeopardy, as the Foyle Haven became the latest organisation to have its back forced against the wall in terms of funding, lending weight to the ever familiar argument that the cuts are targeted at the most vulnerable.
“This service is important,” says Foyle Haven manager, Tim McQuade.
That’s a statement echoed by Cathal O’Donnell.
Three months ago, Cathal, 44, lay in a hospital bed in Altnagelvin.
“I was on my deathbed,” he says. “For the first few days they didn’t really do anything with me because they were waiting for me to die. That was just it,” he says.
Despite the damage to his liver after decades of drinking, and predictions that he would not survive, somehow with medical intervention, Cathal pulled through. He was discharged from Altnagelin after a three week stay, but given a stark warning by doctors.
“My next drink will be my last. It will kill me,” he says.
Cathal is matter of fact about his prognosis. He’s also proud of the fact that he hasn’t had a drink since.
He attributes that achievement to the services and support from staff at the Foyle Haven.
“If I didn’t have this place, I just wouldn’t have survived,” he says, “I would have kept drinking,”
Cathal, like many of the service users at the Haven, lives independently, but the support he gets from the centre is vital.
Kerry Anthony is CEO of Depaul, the organisation which merged with the group of people behind the Foyle Haven in 2011 and has been overseeing the running and funding of the facility since then.
Having lobbied for the funding to save the organisation in recent weeks and months, she says it’s encouraging to see the level of support there is for the service among Derry people but she also emphasises the need for a long term funding commitment.
“We can’t go through another year like this,” she says,
“We were faced with a situation where we would had to have closed the doors and cut the service opening hours drastically. The impact that would have had would have been major. We already know that our preventative work with clients means less pressure on the health service, the criminal justice system and housing organisations. Our work also has a positive impact on tourism in the city. If we’re supporting people here, they aren’t drinking on the streets.”
Keen to make sure people are informed about the broad reach of the service, Kerry explains how wide the remit is and how it stretches beyond just providing a drop-in centre.
“Historically in Derry there’s a great recognition of the day centre approach and that’s exactly what we have here. “We support street drinkers but we also build support people who are in their own tenancies,” she says.
Kerry speaks about the floating support service, where Haven workers visit clients in their own homes. There’s also the ‘Housing First’ approach, which turns the notion of the hostel approach on its head and enables those coping with the effects of alcoholism to live independently, with the help of the floating support service from the Foyle Haven.
“It means that they are able to live independently but that, essentially, we wrap the services around them,” says Kerry.
Tim McQuade, Project Group Manager, says limiting the hours at the service would have been disastrous for those who depend on it.
“It’s important for people’s quality of life, their dignity and their safety.”
Three months after being discharged from hosiptal, Cathal O’Donnell says for him, the service is about the people.
“The staff are brilliant in the Haven. Any type of help you want, they can give it to you. There are people who would be dead if it wasn’t for Foyle haven.”
Everyone nods in agreement and the lobbying for funding continues.