Emergency beds needed in Laois as homeless figures increase

There are no emergency beds for homeless people in Laois, despite a third more people seeking shelter from homeless charity Midlands Simon.

There are no emergency beds for homeless people in Laois, despite a third more people seeking shelter from homeless charity Midlands Simon.

CEO Tony O’Riordan believes their service would have closed but for the support of the Laois Friends of Simon volunteer fundraising group.

“We wouldn’t have been able to keep our service going last year without them. They came to our rescue and kept the show on the road,” he said.

Homelessness is less obvious here than in Dublin, where two men died on the street within the past month.

“It is hidden throughout the midlands, people are sleeping on the floor of a friend’s bedsit, in a car or a derelict building. It is not as visible but unfortunately it is a reality,” Mr O’Riordan said.

They helped 78 Laois people find homes in 2014, an increase of a third from 2013.

“I sense this is because other services are severely under pressure, who might have helped people hold things together. While there are people under severe strain regarding mortgages, this is not the profile we see. Our clients have very complex needs, be it health, mental health or addiction, and they have nowhere else to turn, we are often their last hope,” he said.

The charity opened a six bed emergency accommodation unit in Tullamore in 2012, for Offaly and Laois, which he says is “full every night of the year”, with county councils putting people into B&Bs or hostels in other counties.

“There probably is a need for accommodation in Laois. It is hard to do anything with our piece of the national budget. We need our politicians to apply pressure,” he said.

Midlands Simon receive just over €500,000 of government funding to cover Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Longford, just 1.5 percent of the national homeless budget. They must fundraise another half million yearly to stay running.

“We meet almost weekly with the HSE and local authorities to organise responses to individual cases, trying to maximise our resources. That doesn’t happen in any other region, but it is not recognised nationally. For all intents and purposes, we are punished for being effective,” he said.