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Homelessness: ‘Everybody’s dream is to have their own home at Christmas’

Homelessness: ‘Everybody’s dream is to have their own home at Christmas’

By Emily McGarvey
BBC News NI Published 25 December 2021


Eight volunteers will give out food at The Walk Inn food bank on Holywood Road on Christmas Day
Image caption,Eight volunteers will give out food at The Walk Inn food bank on Holywood Road on Christmas Day

While many families will celebrate Christmas in warmth of their own home, for others, that is a luxury they can only dream of this year.

In Northern Ireland, 15,991 households presented as homeless in past year.

The Salvation Army in north Belfast will house 27 families on Christmas Day at its homeless hostel.

The youngest person staying at Thorndale Family Centre is a newborn baby who will spend their first Christmas there with their mother.

Many homeless people must choose between “paying for electricity food or buying their children presents”, support worker Chris Cullens told BBC News NI.

In run up to Christmas, he has helped families that have been left homeless due to “job losses, effect of decrease in Universal Credit, being unable to pay rent bills”.

With cost of living rising uncertainty caused by Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Cullens said many people are “only a few pay checks away from that experience ourselves [homelessness]”.

“We’ll have over 100 people in total staying here – small large families, mothers, fathers children from babies up to older teenagers,” he added.

Support worker Chris Cullens
Image caption,Support worker Chris Cullens will dedicate his time to helping families at Thorndale Family Centre over Christmas

“Some families can be quite isolated but they still do have a good support network of families friends some aren’t so lucky; refugee families who are away from their own country can feel quite isolated.”

But he said staff will do their best to make it “as special a Christmas as possible” for everyone.

Santa always visits too.

Staff at centre will then prepare a Christmas dinner with “traditional turkey, ham, potatoes all trimmings”.

For others, they will be gathering at food banks across Northern Irelon Christmas Day.

Gold Davies, from Belfast Lisburn Community Project, organises Walk Inn food bank in east Belfast which provides free emergency food for people in need.

Walk Inn food bank
Image caption,The Walk Inn food bank is run by Belfast Lisburn Community Project

In lead up to Christmas, he said he has seen a huge increase in demfor food due to “financial pressure job losses from pandemic”.

Food is collected by volunteers at local supermarkets banked in store until it is given to public who are referred by registered care professionals.

‘I or you can be homeless at any time’

“People who have lost their jobs, waiting on Universal Credit, or their benefits have stopped – there are so many different types of homeless,” Mr Davies said.

The food bank on Holywood Road will open on Christmas Day with eight volunteers working to give out food to those in need to make a meal at home.

Volunteers at Walk Inn food bank in east Belfast provide food for those in need
Image caption,The food bank relies on volunteers

“People put their name on a list we order in what they want. We have turkey, chicken anything they need from our freezer,” he said.

“I’ve seen people who are too shy suffering in silence – some homeless don’t look that way. I or you can be homeless at any time.”

‘Everybody’s dream is to have their own home ‘

Homeless charity Depaul has hostels in Belfast that provide temporary accommodation for families for up to two years.

Marie Dorris is a project group manager for Cloverhill hostel which houses 18 families in west Belfast Mater Dei hostel which houses 13 families in north Belfast.

The charity also helps 45 families in community who are at risk of homelessness.

“Everybody’s dream is to have their own home at Christmas being in temporary accommodation for these families is far from ideal,” Ms Dorris said.

Staff from homeless charity Depaul will help residents staying at their hostels over Christmas
Image caption,Staff from homeless charity Depaul will help residents staying at their hostels over Christmas

She said many families they care for become homeless to due to financial pressures, family or marital breakdowns, domestic violence, overcrowding in unsuitable accommodation or loss to private rental poor conditions in previous tenancies.

“It’s a strange time. We try to make Christmas as normal for families we have here,” she said.

“We run activities – we have Santa Claus visiting, Christmas card art competitions, just getting kids into Christmas spirit.”

The hostels would normally run an annual Christmas dinner with all families but to mitigate risk of Covid-19, they are delivering door-to-door hampers to each self-contained flat.

Depaul has a floating support service to help families resettle after leaving hostels Ms Dorris said provision of food for families coming up to Christmas has been excellent.

She said charity works to make sure “no family is left with nothing over Christmas”.

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