Mark Cooney, chairperson of the Midlands Simon Community.

New emergency housing facility in Midlands to open soon

A former hotel in Tullamore which has been converted into an emergency accommodation facility for 17 residents is expected to open in the coming weeks.

The redevelopment of what was the Clonamore House Hotel on Arden Road is being managed by the homelessness charities Sophia and Midlands Simon Community.

Mark Cooney, the chairperson of Midlands Simon, told the Westmeath Independent the facility was almost ready to open.

"The building has been completed, it's just the fitting out of it, the handover, and all the usual snags that you'd have. It's purpose-built, and it's an absolutely fabulous establishment in terms of its location and its facilities."

Mr Cooney said that, in facilitating emergency accommodation for 17 people, Clonamore House had been designed to replace Midlands Simon's existing provision of six emergency beds in Tullamore and six in Athlone.

However, he said the current housing crisis meant there was a possibility the existing Tullamore and Athlone premises might need to remain open to meet demand.

"Given the level of homelessness, the local authorities may want to continue with the existing facilities as well as the new service," he said.

"There is discussion taking place about whether we will need to continue the existing service in Athlone and/or Tullamore, on an interim basis, to deal with the issue that's out there."

Homelessness figures for the month of July saw another record number of people - 9,018 adults and 3,829 children - in emergency accommodation nationally.

Mr Cooney said Midlands Simon's out-of-hours team was out every night working with those who are sleeping rough.

"The best we can do is to give them some assistance by providing sleeping bags and giving them some degree of comfort, because there is nothing else available to them.

"But their details are being fed back into the local authorities, so they are on the radar," he said.

The existing emergency accommodation in Tullamore and Athlone is "always full" due to the shortage of permanent housing.

"Landlords are leaving the market - we had rented a house where there were two tenants in it and the landlord wanted to move on and do it up, as he is entitled to do.

"He served notice, as now we have two people who have to be sorted out, either in terms of going back into emergency accommodation or finding somewhere.

"That is always a difficulty, and it will remain a difficulty for another while. We know housing is being built, but until it comes on stream there's going to be that problem.

"Emergency beds aren't becoming free, because people aren't able to move out of emergency accommodation as soon as we would like."

He said that, for people in emergency accommodation, Midlands Simon would traditionally have had a maximum length of stay of six months, but this was being exceeded because of the scarcity of housing options.

"There have been people staying in emergency accommodation for a year, or in some cases longer than that, because there are no places for then to move on to."

He added that Midlands Simon had previously struggled to fund its services, but its funding from central Government has been increased.

"Our big issue for a long time had been funding, but we're now getting to a point where we're being fully funded for the services we're providing.

"In the past we had been making up the shortfall through fundraising, but it got to a level where we couldn't bridge the gap.

"Now the funding has increased in terms of matching the cost of providing the service," he said.