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Tracey Reddy. Photograph by John Kelly

Simon: Lack of services a hinderance

SINCE establishing a base in Kilrush earlier this year, Mid West Simon has come across what it describes as serious addiction issues, social problems and housing concerns in the town.
Tracey Reddy, accommodation team leader with Mid West Simon, which covers Clare, Limerick and North Tipperary, said a lack of services in the town is a hindrance to people looking for help.
Highlighting the organisation’s three-day 72km Simon’s Way fundraising trek across Clare on the weekend of September 25 to 27, Tracey noted the fundraising sleep-out held in Kilrush GAA field last year was very well supported by people in the town.
In her role, Tracey tries to help people to cope if they are rendered homeless or are under threat of losing a place in which to live.
“My job is to oversee the accommodation of Mid West Simon services. It is everything from supporting people who are living in our units, to meeting people who find themselves either at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness. On a day-to-day basis, I could have somebody come into me who has just been issued with an eviction notice and they don’t know what to do. My job is to chat with them about why they have found themselves in this situation and to look at kind of supports they need,” she explained.
“We’ve been really, really busy in Clare. We opened an office in Kilrush about two months ago. Out of there we have our food bank and part of what I do is meet people and do assessments with them around why are they accessing the food bank? What is going on in their lives that they need help putting food on the table? I also meet people on a one-to-one basis around emergency accommodation issues. That could be directing them to the council or homelessness services, or looking at what kind of supports we can offer,” Tracey explained.
She has found that people looking for a place to live often struggle to come up with a deposit.
“One of our big pieces of work is a deposit loan scheme where we lend to people who either cannot afford a deposit, or aren’t entitled to a deposit from social welfare. It’s a really busy scheme and a really important one. With rents now being as high as they are, what people need to move into rented accommodation is upwards of €1,000. That’s the initial layout before anything else. A lot of people don’t have access to a deposit and are struggling to get the one month rent together.
“For us, the biggest thing is that people have a roof over their head. We offer regular support to them around their tenancy, see how they are getting on with their budget and we look at what other supports they need in their lives to make sure they are able to hold on to their house,” she said, stressing that current rent supplement figures do not reflect the real cost of rent, either in Clare or throughout the country.
In her work in Clare, Tracey has discovered that potentially vulnerable tenants have little choice available to them.
“Both Ennis and Kilrush are high population areas. There is very little rented accommodation available in these areas. Trying to get people into accommodation is really difficult because there is very little rented accommodation and there is very little social housing. People are really struggling and they can end up in B&Bs and in hostels. In Kilrush, in particular, there is no emergency accommodation there, so if somebody finds themselves homeless, they either have to go to Ennis or if they are a woman or a family, they end up in a B&B. Kilrush is a tough town for people who don’t have an awful lot of money.
“The amount of drug issues within Kilrush and the knock-on accommodation issues are significant. Nobody wants to end up on drugs. I know we think people make a choice but, really, there is stuff that gets you to that point,” she said.
“Kilrush just seems to have a cohort of people living in the town that are living hand to mouth and are living in accommodation that you just wouldn’t want human beings to live in. Then you have the knock-on health effects of that and there are anti-social issues emerging as well. There is a nice feel to Kilrush but there is an undercurrent there and people are really struggling. Then we have families coming in who are in accommodation but they are just struggling to pay bills,” she reflected, before reiterating the neccessity for increased and co-ordinated services in towns like Kilrush.
“One of the big issues in Kilrush is that there are very few services there. If somebody finds themselves on the streets of Kilrush on a Friday evening, they are in real trouble. There is nowhere to go. There is no emergency female accommodation in Clare either. The thing about Kilrush is people need to be able to access services. What happens to people who find themselves in a situation and where do they go? There are a lot of issues associated with addiction in the town and if you can’t access the services, then you are in real trouble. You have to have more services there, including emergency accommodation. If you are not providing them more directly in the town itself, you need to have access to transport out of the town. It costs people money to have to go from Kilrush to Limerick, if they have to get their methadone for example. These people don’t have money to feed themselves. Motivation can be hard for people when you are coming off something like heroin, so you need as much support as possible,” she added.
While Mid West Simon concentrate on helping to feed and house people, it also works with many people afflicted by drug addiction.
“Simon is not a drugs project but it is a core part of what we do. It’s a huge issue and then you have the knock-on housing effect then. We have some people in Clare who are trying to come off heroin and are trying to get into a detox centre but who aren’t in stable accommodation. So they can’t get community detox. When people are at a point where they have made a decision to change, you have to act really quickly. You have a window of maybe seven to 10 days but, unfortunately in this country, our services don’t act quickly at all.
“The number of people in Kilrush using heroin is very high relative to the population. There is a constant supply. I talk to people and they say ‘I want to come off it but then I get a phonecall from the dealer who says, do you want a bag?’ It’s almost like there is nowhere to go,” Tracey has found.
She believes the public do not want to engage in talking about drug-related issues, as they might on mortgage or debt concerns.
“It’s about resources and resources are about bodies and money. We have had eight years of cut after cut. Services have been decimated and we’re now seeing the tipping point. We find it harder to talk about people who are habitually using drugs and who are in unstable accommodation. We struggle as a society with that. Some people just don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
There is an outreach clinic in Kilrush once a week that deals with drug-related issues, while Simon is continuing to further establish itself in the town.
“We are trying to be a presence in the town but that’s not enough. It needs a much more concerted approach. You need government to be engaged in it as well and not just the voluntary organisations. In a week, we would deal with 40 to 50 people, including people using the food bank and people who need support around accommodation,” she revealed.
For more on the Simon’s Way fundraiser, see their Facebook page or email fund@midwestsimon.ie.

By Peter O’Connell

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