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Published on: Covid-19

Olive Keane — Covid-19 on the frontline of Housing Services

One man told me “sure I’ve been doing this my whole life, nobody has ever wanted to come near me”.

Over the period of Covid-19, we are bringing you first hand experiences from our staff and volunteers working in our frontline services who are giving homeless people in the West a voice. Meet Olive Keane, Housing & Services Support Coordinator who helps our clients to move into and maintain their new homes, and supports them on their journey to independent living.

My name is Olive and I am the Housing & Services Support Coordinator for Galway Simon Community. I’ve worked with the organisation for over 5 years across the frontline services. My job is to help people to move into a new home when they are ready and to make sure that where they are moving to is up to standard.

One of the first moves I helped with this year was with a gentleman I have known since 2016 who finally got to move into his own place, a small one-bed apartment. It had been a long journey for him so you can imagine how special it was to be the person who could go with him to see his new home for the first time and to hand over the keys.

When we opened the door to his new home, his initial reaction was absolute disbelief. After a moment’s thought he turned to me in the apartment and said “Olive, we need to talk about my independence”. To this I couldn’t stop smiling as I said…  “this is your home, no one else will be living here, these are your keys you can come and go as you please”. I think it was only then that it hit home to him that he was finally having his greatest wish fulfilled: a place that was his alone, no more sharing with other people like he had done for the best part of his life.

When Covid-19 started, to allow for social distancing protocols, I had to support a number of clients out of our shared housing services. But unfortunately, because the Covid-19 crisis came so suddenly there was very little warning and time for this because of the sudden need to move people. It was very challenging for clients because it was a rushed experience, and not one they got to take in like they normally would be able to.

Clients were literally told “you’re moving next week” and they were kind of caught off guard by that.

Usually during the move, it would be more hands on because you’d be sitting beside the client, helping them with all of the household things they need to set up, like electricity and that kind of stuff. But now, we have to help them remotely or we have to do it socially distanced apart. It’s a very strange atmosphere because everybody is really tense and they’re worried about catching the virus. It’s not the way we usually do things, we’re a lot more personable than that but we’re having to work in ways which we don’t normally.

For a lot of our clients, they’re used to being isolated. One man told me “sure I’ve been doing this my whole life, nobody has ever wanted to come near me”.

People are sticking to the social distancing guidelines. But it also brings challenges for them. A lot of our clients would be independent and would be able to do their own shopping and get their own medication, but they would have underlying health conditions that aren’t allowing them to do this. So this means that we are having to do it for them.

Out of the clients I’ve helped to move, two have struggled with it because they didn’t expect it to happen so soon and they’re really finding it difficult to adjust to being on their own, not having the same kind of support they would have had before. There’s nobody with them constantly now so it has been a big shock to them but they are adjusting to it. But this is a positive thing for our clients, they now have a home of their own where they can feel safe and secure. We’ve had one man that moved out of one of our residential settings and it’s been the best thing ever, it’s been a very positive thing for him.

Regardless of the situation, handing the keys of a new home to someone is a very special moment and these are the moments we work towards at Galway Simon.

Olive Keane
Housing & Services Support Coordinator