B&B provision hailed by Derry politicians as large demand for emergency digs soars during pandemic

The manager of a group of B&Bs which provide emergency accommodation to people at risk of homelessness says demand for beds has been extremely high.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 12:49 pm
B&B manager Stephen Harkin says demand has been high.

Stephen Harkin, who manages the Oaktree, Annie’s and Aberfoyle B&Bs said it has been a challenging year but that they have been proud to support the vulnerable.

Mr. Harkin, a qualified health and social care manager with over 25 years’ experience working within the voluntary and community sector, acknowledged some local concerns around non-standard accommodations in the city. However, he said the premises he manages have strict protocols in place.

“We took the conscious decision since we opened, that we had to act responsibly and exclude individuals who have convictions against children or those who are on the sex offenders register due to our proximity to the local community, churches, charities and businesses.

“As owners of Oaktree, Annie’s, and Aberfoyle B&Bs we have provided numerous individuals with accommodation but we remain cognisant of our social responsibility to protect the local community and we will continue to work closely with the community to alleviate any of their concerns.”

Mr. Harkin said the number of people placed in non-standard accommodation within the city peaked last week. The B&Bs accommodate individuals aged from 18 to 69 with 90 per cent of those placed at Oaktree coming from NIHE offices throughout the north via the out of hours service. Ten per cent of referrals come from the District office, said Mr. Harkin.

“We are only happy to support those who have had the misfortune of being homeless or in crisis due to COVID-19. These people are someone’s son, daughter, mother, or father.

“We need to be mindful that many people from Derry have also been displaced as far away as Belfast.

“During normal times we would not see such numbers come to the city in crisis and I think it is commendable that as a city, we have been able to support the most vulnerable at this time.”

He said therapists are employed to provide a range of supports and this has had an ‘amazing impact’ on the lives of tenants.

“The work is on-going and strong professional relationships have also been developed with local charities, Food Banks, St. Vincent de Paul, GPs, De Paul etc. without their support a lot of this would not have been possible,” he said.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “I’m aware of the chronic issue of homelessness. Sadly it can’t just be sorted out by putting a roof over people’s heads but rather we need to address root causes and issues that many of these individuals struggle with. It is imperative that support is provided to help people get tenancy-ready.”

UUP Alderman Darren Guy: “Many of these individuals presenting themselves are vulnerable young adults, pushed from pillar to post with no real sense of belonging, a feeling of destitution and of little hope. At Oaktree B&B, not only is a place of comfort provided by Stephen and his team, but an entire holistic service is provided by Jo and Janet to anyone who presents with addictions, poor mental health and wellbeing issues”.

DUP Alderman Ryan McCready said: “Having had first-hand experience in supporting displaced persons with underlying issues such as poor mental health, financial difficulties and addiction to harmful substances, it is a breath of fresh air to see the status quo be challenged with regards to temporary accommodation, facilities and holistic support.  This is what I witnessed on a recent visit to the Oaktree B&B in the Waterside.”

Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson said: “I’d like to thank Stephen and the team, not only are they providing much needed accommodation, but they are also trying to provide support and tools to their residents, which will help empower them.

“I see this as a positive step forward and it highlights the need for a more compassionate and person-centred approach in the future.”