Working to End Homelessness:
Simon Community

The Simon Communities of Ireland have been working to reduce and prevent homelessness and support people suffering from homelessness, since 1969. 

Rebuilding Ireland spoke to Dublin Simon’s CEO Sam McGuinness about homelessness in Ireland today.

Can you outline the work that the Simon Community does?

Our services fall under a number of pillars. The first would be rough sleeping/emergency accommodation, the next would be housing, and then the focus, particularly recently, would be to work on homeless prevention. At that stage we either prevent people from becoming homeless or we help progress them into housing. The housing they’re moved into could be Simon’s own housing, local authority housing or from another approved housing body.

In the Dublin area we’d been focused for the last number of years on using any reserves that we had and any funding we could get to actually provide homes ourselves. We’ve actually allocated funds and have attracted funds from many quarters, from corporates, private individuals, anywhere we can… so we can build, develop and acquire our own property. We’ve done an extraordinary job, on one hand we acquired 250 properties in the last three years – that has housed somewhere in the region of 400 people, including families and children.

The other significant thing we’ve been doing is that we’ve upgraded our homelessness prevention teams and over the last year we’ve settled 1,200 people into new homes.

We’ve done an extraordinary job, on one hand we acquired 250 properties in the last three years – that has housed somewhere in the region of 400 people, including families and children.

What is Christmas like for homeless people supported by Simon?

In a lot of ways it’s like Christmas in anybody else’s home. We prepare special meals, volunteers come in, there may be music and entertainment; we make sure everybody’s enjoying themselves, including the staff.

I think the Simon Community wraps some joy around people for Christmas, offering something that will give them a sense of fulfilment and at least provide, for a short period of time, the special lift that they need.

In a lot of ways it’s like Christmas in anybody else’s home.

How does what you are doing this Christmas compare with last year?

Over the last three years, given the huge number of people who never expected to be homeless – I think for them it’s a bit different. They want to have a home and a Christmas like they always had. The economy has been kind to some people and for others it has been extremely challenging.

There’s been a huge response by everybody, the public at large are responding to homelessness; they are sending in presents – we’ve had hundreds of gifts that have been wrapped especially for the people in our services and that’s amazing.

How does the Government’s strategy to address homelessness influence your work with people experiencing homelessness?

I think the strategy’s actually making a difference already and I’d hope it would continue on. The plan was that we’d get more emergency accommodation this December and that’s happening. It’s going to make a real difference to people as they will be given the opportunity now to get off the street, to at least have a bed for the night.

I think the strategy’s actually making a difference already and I’d hope it would continue on.

What contribution is the Housing First Initiative making to solving homelessness?

Certainly in the Simon Community we believe that this is a plan that will work and we want to get behind it.

The difference that it’s made to us is that we now believe we have a plan; there’s detail and enthusiasm behind the plan that we wouldn’t have seen before. It has cross-departmental teams working together, it has increased the number of resources – in local authorities and the Department – and I think the NGOs who have been there all the time struggling with this problem can get a certain sense of charge about that.

Certainly in the Simon Community we believe that this is a plan that will work and we want to get behind it.