Homelessness charity Depaul has provided life-changing assistance to almost 300 local people facing chronic addiction and homelessness issues in Derry in the past year alone.
The charity, which runs the Foyle Haven Day Centre and a number of other vital services in the city, said that it has noticed more and more young people who are in need of help.
The Foyle Haven Day Centre was initially set up by local people amid widespread concern over the welfare of street drinkers in Derry at the turn of the Millennium.
The centre opened its doors on John Street in 2001, providing a safe haven for people with addiction issues.
Deirdre Canavan, Depaul’s Senior Services Manager said: “Due to a big demand for the service there was a requirement to join a national charity and in came Depaul in 2011.
“The day centre/drop in centre is for street drinkers to access practical assistance and support and to reduce the harm from alcohol addiction or other substances and encourage service users to access resources available to them and assist them with hot meals, access to shower, laundry facilities as well as the opportunity for social engagement and activities a lot of people that have issues with addiction often miss out on.”
Deirdre said the day centre, which last year worked with 187 individuals, is one of three of the main services Depaul offers in Derry.
Within Foyle Haven, Depaul also runs a ‘Help’ initiative funded by the Public Health Agency and which involves staff engaging with individuals and accompanying them to health appointments.
“The population that use our centre might find it difficult to make and keep appointments and we would be advocating on their behalf with health and statutory services,” she said.
“We also often bring people into the centre like opticians, chiropodist,, Chest, Heart & Stroke reps. and podiatrists to offer advice and support, and we are working on developing that further, which will, hopefully, prevent long-term health problems getting to a critical stage. That early intervention is exceptionally beneficial.”
Depaul also has a unique Housing First project which works with people who have very complex needs. It involves identifying, accessing and placing individuals into accommodation of their own and then into permanent housing.
The project is funded through the Housing Executive’s Supporting People Fund.
“We then wrap around appropriate services to help them maintain their tenancy. In 2017 we helped 52 individual people and provided them with 400 focused support sessions.”
Depaul also has a Harm Reduction Floating Support Service which provides one-to-one, confidential support to assist people at risk of losing tenancies or finding it difficult to maintain them on their own and those at risk of becoming homeless through alcohol or substance misuse. Support is tailored to help reduce self-harm through addiction. “That could be things like advice around addiction, independent living skills, budget management and sign posting to other relevant agencies,” she said.
The statistics around homelessness are becoming increasingly troubling, with Depaul reporting a 27 per cent increase in the number of families who need support across Northern Ireland, while the numbers sleeping rough has also risen dramatically.
Over the course of Homelessness Awareness Week last week, Depaul have had a stand at Sainsbury’s in Derry and hosted different events including a Coffee Morning and bag packing. There was also a Make a Wish donation box set up along with an information stand detailing the various services within the city.
“We are genuinely delighted that Sainsbury’s is working with us in helping to support the services and raise awareness,” Deirdre added. “During this time of year it is vital vulnerable people are not left alone without care and we do our utmost to ensure people are mot left homeless.”
Deirdre said it was “absolutely crucial” all three services in Derry were maintained, adding that long-term funding was essential. “These are people that belong to our community and without these supports who knows where these individuals would be. It’s much better to prevent people getting to that stage and these frontline services do help people get out of a situation of homelessness and stay out of it and prevent people from getting into homelessness.”
The recurring funding crisis which has threatened services and seen a reduction in opening hours at the Foyle Haven Day Centre back has been well documented.
Deirdre said that the Day Centre continues to suffer from a lack of stable funding, making it “very difficult to plan for the future,” although Depaul is committed to pursuing all potential avenues. And there has been some good news.
Since July, 2017, due to funding being cut, the centre has been operating from 12 noon to 7.30pm Monday to Friday, 12pm to 4pm on Saturday and closed on Sunday.
“Prior to that it was open seven days a week and longer hours,” Deirdre said. “But I am happy to say Depaul have secured funding through the Public Health Agency which we really appreciate.
“This will enable us temporarily to extend the opening hours a little bit during the week and open on Sunday up to the end of March 2019.”
Deirdre said she has seen an increase in the number of people with complex needs accessing Depaul’s services, and also a significant increase in polysubstance abuse (meaning people experiencing problems with different combinations of substances such as alcohol, prescription and non-prescription drugs).
The demographics are also changing, with service users getting younger and more women presenting, although men still make up the majority of service users.
In terms of feedback, Deirdre said: “We are constantly evaluating our service and constantly asking our service users. They have said things like, ‘If it wasn’t for this service, I would be dead;’ ‘This is a lifeline for me’ and ‘The support we get from staff is the only support I feel I have.’
“For a lot of these individuals, because of a chaotic lifestyle, they may have lost contact with families and mainstream services.
“For them they feel Foyle Haven gives them the opportunity to take part in activities, there’s a social aspect - somebody to talk to and company.
“Isolation and loneliness for individuals living out in the community can be crippling and they are so appreciative to have that regular contact, especially when they are not feeling well; to have a member of staff coming in and not judging them in any way and providing whatever support they need at that point, they are very grateful.
“Addiction should not define an individual. It is often a moment of time in their life and what we try to do is get them back on their feet and reach their full potential.”
*To acknowledge the success of the Housing First service, Depaul will be hosting an event on December 7 and inviting partner agencies and services together to join them.