Fighting homelessness at Christmas

Posted on: 11th December, 2017

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

Pictured at the launch of the Cork Simon Little Women’s Christmas lunch, January 6, 2018, were Sherna Malone, The Celtic Ross Hotel, Christine Heffernan and Kerry McMahon, Cork Simon. All wearing outfits from Susu Boutique in Clonakilty. Pic: Jean Luc Morales

According to the most recent figures published by the Department of Housing, there were 282 people in emergency accommodation in Cork during the last week of October 2017 – an 18 per cent increase in 12 months. October 2017 saw the number of women in emergency accommodation in the South West increase by 88 per cent and the number of families in emergency accommodation increase by 86 per cent in 12 months.

Throughout October, Cork Simon Community provided an emergency bed for an average of 54 people per night. The nightly capacity at the Cork Simon shelter is 47 people per night. Cork Simon’s emergency shelter had to turn away an average of 10 people per night from its emergency shelter in October because it was full.

To address the increasing need for additional emergency beds, on November 1, Cork Simon Community opened a Winter Night Shelter with the support of Cork City Council. An average of 10 people per night have stayed at the Night Shelter since it opened.

Kerry McMahon from Rosscarbery is the Community Partnerships Manager in Cork Simon. Kerry’s role involves raising awareness of the organisation and engaging with various groups within the community who want to raise funds for Cork Simon. “It’s about communicating the value of fundraising in a community and getting people involved in a way that feels meaningful to them,” explains Kerry. “I’m very proud of all of the support Cork Simon receives from the West Cork area. There is a real compassion here for the homeless, with lots of people, even people in their 90s, sending in donations to us from West Cork.

“We have our biggest fundraising drive in December with the Cork Simon Christmas Jumper Campaign and then the Women’s Little Christmas lunches in January. We also have the Sing for Simon campaign this month – carol singing in the city centre. There’s no reason why people can’t do that all over the country; we organise the permit, buckets, jackets and so on and it’s really good fun for everyone involved.

“I think people do things and think it’s only a small contribution so it’s not important to the organisation, but it is so important,” emphasises Kerry. Every little bit helps. The aim in 2017 is to raise funds of €3 million in Cork and Kerry, which is a lot. We can’t plan to do things like the Winter Shelter if we don’t have more money. We also need homes that people can afford and we need the Government to move forward with the Rebuilding Ireland plan.”

Rebuilding Ireland is the Government’s plan to address the housing and homeless crisis. The plan includes provision for a significant increase to social and affordable housing builds, measures to control rising rents, resources for additional emergency accommodation and other supports, and policy changes to increase the supply of housing. Any significant impact is yet to be seen.

In the absence of any significant increase to the number of social and affordable housing coming on stream, and with the crisis in the private rented market continuing to deepen, Cork Simon has a plan to increase its own housing stock by 100 units by the end of 2019.

At present, there are more than 8,000 people in emergency accommodation in the State.

“Christmas is a very difficult time for the homeless men and women we work with, as they’re not with their families, so we aim is to make it as positive a time as possible for them,” says Kerry.

To find out more about Cork Simon and how you can help go to corksimon.ie or call 021 4321 051.


West Cork lunch aiming to ‘open doors’ for homeless women in Cork

Tickets are now on sale for the Cork Simon West Cork Women’s Little Christmas Lunch, which takes place in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery on January 6.

The theme of the 2018 lunch is ‘opening doors’ for homeless women in Cork.

This well-supported annual event, which is in its 12th year, has raised funds of over €125,000 in its lifetime for Cork Simon. This year, the aim is to raise €15K.

Restyled this year under a new organising committee, the glamourous lunch promises a menu of fun, fashion and lifestyle tips, all for a very good cause. Irish comedian Colm O’Regan, author of the Irish Mammy books, has committed to being MC for the afternoon and Joolie Collier, the London-based stylist to supermodel Jourdan Dunn will provide tips on fashion and styling advice.

Other names lined up to address the 200 guests include Jess Hatchett of Flow Yoga West Cork, who will discuss breathing techniques and stress management and nutritionist Allison Kingston, who will give simplify food tips.

The event, which runs between 12.30 and 6pm on January 6, will start with a fun G&T drinks reception and laidback lyrics from singer Ciara O’Driscoll before moving on to the four-course lunch with wine and inspirational talks.

Christine Heffernan of the organising committee says she expects women from all walks of life from all over West Cork to attend. “It’s a new take on an event that has been run very successfully in the past but the one thing that remains the same is that everyone at that lunch is there to support Cork Simon,” says Christine.

Tickets cost €55 and are on sale on eventbrite.ie, in the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery and Options Boutique, Clonakilty.


Homelessness is hitting Rosie hard. She has lost her home, has all but lost her daughter and is not far from losing hope.

Rosie, a woman in her thirties, came to Cork Simon’s emergency shelter well over two years ago. She’s now regarded as long-term homeless – stuck in emergency accommodation for more than six months because she has no other option. She has exhausted every option to find a place she can afford, a place to call home.

Rosie and her daughter became homeless when her partner walked out shortly before her landlady gave her notice to quit because she wanted to sell the house. As Rosie puts it, “My world started to unravel”. She and her daughter were placed in emergency accommodation – moving from room to room in various bed and breakfasts and hotels. As Rosie describes it, she started hanging around with the wrong crowd; she became reckless. They stayed with family too for a spell, but it was from pillar to post. Rosie says it wasn’t right or fair on her daughter. She volunteered her daughter into care – and it’s at that lowest point in her life that she arrived at Cork Simon’s door.

“Giving up my daughter was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Rosie.  She came to Simon, she says, to get her head together and to work towards putting her life back on track. She used to be a chef and would like to get back to work again, but without her own address that’s proving to be impossible. “My day is consumed with trying to find accommodation,” she says. It’s exhausting. Rosie has lost count of the number of flats and houses she has chased. “Landlords usually don’t give the homeless in Cork a chance.” She says her experience is that once landlords find out she’s homeless they say they don’t accept rent allowances or they come up with ways of fobbing her off. Usually they don’t even give her the time of day.

Rosie thought her luck was changing recently when she found a house in a town outside Cork City – it wasn’t perfect but it could have allowed her to get her daughter back. She was overjoyed, as finding a place to rent in Cork on rent allowance is almost impossible. But it wasn’t to be. The landlord somehow discovered that Rosie was homeless.  She got a text message two days before she was due to move telling her that the landlord had changed her mind. Rosie was devastated. She had already told her daughter about the apartment…and now she must tell her it fell through. “It’ll break her heart.” She gets cards from her daughter every week saying, ‘I want to come home’. She hangs them all on the wall beside her bed and looks at them every morning.

Rosie’s search for a place to call her own continues. But she’s losing hope. She’s losing hope of that one chance that could turn her life around and her daughter could be back with her again.

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