“I would worry about people’s mental health and where we will be at the end of all this.”
The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a huge impact on those experiencing homelessness, putting so many already vulnerable people at increased risk. Over the period of Covid-19, we are bringing you first hand experiences from our dedicated staff and volunteers working in our frontline services who are giving homeless people in the West a voice. Meet Andrea Fitzgerald who manages and works in our frontline Homelessness Prevention Services as well as a range of other services.
My name is Andrea, and I work with Galway Simon Community as a Services Manager. I work closely with our team and clients, managing a number of our services including the Bridge Resource Centre in Ballinasloe, County Community Support Service, Community Detox Programme and our Community Housing Services.
The ongoing current Covid-19 pandemic is an extremely worrying and challenging time for all of us. Prior to this, we were already stretched due to the large volume of people in need of our services in the County. We were even operating a waiting list, which is something I would never want to do.
In 2019, we supported a total of 148 households in East County Galway alone, this included 76 families with 213 children.
Social distancing restrictions are not easy because we are working with a very vulnerable group, the most marginalised in society.
I suppose daily life for us has changed on a number of fronts since the outbreak. We’ve have had to close the doors of our Bridge Resource Centre in Ballinasloe. This centre operates as a drop-in service offering people advice and practical supports. We now have to support people in a totally different capacity- on an extended outreach basis so if someone needs to access the centre for the basics like laundry or showering facilities, we now have to do that by appointment so that we can ensure it’s done in a safe way.
Our County Community Support Service is also busier than ever. A lot of the work that we do in the County is quite intensive and therefore requires a lot of time and resources usually. Our clients may not have transport, they may have family members with underlying health conditions and many are living in over-crowded family homes where it places them at higher risk.
I guess Covid-19 has frightened people. A family rang me recently living in an extremely overcrowded situation. The lady told me there was over ten adult members living in a three bedroomed house and that she was petrified about the virus getting into her household.
You find that a lot of people in homeless situations- they feel that a lot of the power has been taken away from them- so you add this layer on top of it and it can be very difficult for people.
Covid-19 has been a huge upheaval for clients and staff. Our clients are very proud individuals and they are very proud of the things that they have achieved. They have gained a lot of independent living skills and it’s almost as though they have had to hand that over again and that’s very difficult. There’s a large portion of clients who have fully absorbed this new way of being but you would also have a small number of clients who would find it next to impossible to adhere to what is being asked of them at the moment.
Isolation in general is a trigger to a decline in mental health, so when you have clients that now have to live in an atmosphere where their level of contact has been paired back even more again… they are going to struggle.
I would worry about what things will look like for them when we get to the other side of this.
There was a false sense at the start that there would be more accommodation coming on stream given that students weren’t around, and a lot of the Airbnb’s were empty, but personally I haven’t seen a huge amount of affordable accommodation come on stream. I’m also very mindful that a lot of our clients were already served with eviction notices and in very complicated situations prior to Covid-19 so I worry about what things will look like for them when we get to the other side of this.
We don’t have a definite timeline on how long this is going to go on for but the support we need to provide to people is going to be time and resource intensive and we need all the help we can get to be able to support them in the best way possible.
For anyone who is considering supporting Galway Simon going forward, we are so grateful on the frontline for every bit of support we get.
Galway Simon Community
Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, our team of frontline staff and volunteers are working relentlessly to ensure that we do everything possible to keep those within our community safe at this very difficult time.
Our Homelessness Prevention Teams are already stretched trying to keep people in their own homes, but with economic difficulties looming, we are hugely concerned about even more challenges ahead.