CORK Foyer is a multi-disciplinary supported accommodation for young adults in Cork at risk of homelessness.
Based on the Assumption Road in Blackpool, its stated aim and current function is to bridge the glaring gap that exists between the prevention of young people entering the homeless services, and indeed the reactive measure of taking young people out of the emergency accommodation setting where possible.
It also provides a solid foundation to the many young people who struggle after coming out of the care of the State aged 18.
It has 19 self-contained en suite rooms, providing young people with the ability to develop crucial skills for independent living.
Covid-19 has greatly impacted the lives of the young people living in the Foyer. However, they’ve shown a dynamism, ability to adapt, resilience and social conscience that in these trying times matches only that of our frontline healthcare staff.
The Foyer offers a vital living space for the most vulnerable young people in Cork, and the service is supported financially by the HSÉ and Cork City Council.
Barry Waddingham, the manager of the service, shared some of the major challenges the service has faced in these extraordinary times and the extraordinary measures that it has taken to adapt this new environment.
Due to the Foyer’s aim of developing the independent living skills necessary to sustain a healthy livelihood beyond the remit of their facility, one of the most obvious hurdles the organisation faced during the height of the Covid-19 crisis was boredom amongst residents.
The Foyer was put in a position where it was near impossible to deliver education and training in the ways it previously had internally. This created some unexpected difficulties, such as the tension created by implementing a curfew.
“The residents’ sleeping patterns were majorly interrupted as a result of the lockdown, therefore we had to implement a curfew, not just for the welfare of our young residents, but also for the welfare of our staff, as it limited the level of potential exposure to the virus,” he said.
Despite these difficulties, Mr Waddingham was keen to note the element to which Cork Foyer was lucky, compared to emergency accommodation services, as their housing was self-contained, whereas emergency accommodation elsewhere was far more difficult to manage when it came to the topic of infection control.
There was a critical balance to be met for residents, between the physical distancing restrictions necessary to prevent the virus from spreading, but also the social and psychiatric effects posed by these measures on the mental health of the residents.
“Therefore, we felt it would be unfair to attempt to implement the social distancing measures on their private rooms,” Mr Waddingham said.
“However, we did make sure to enforce them stringently in the public areas, such as the TV room and the kitchen, where we felt we had more remit to intervene.”
This methodology proved to be very effective, with the mental health of residents largely maintained and zero Covid-19 cases amongst staff or residents of the facility.
For residents that have had engagement issues prior to Covid-19, one challenge presented is that the pandemic has often exacerbated their lack of engagement. Conversely, the crisis also highlighted residents who had a robust sense of responsibility, with many working part-time and developing vital employability skills which will serve them later in life.
Due to a mixture of boredom, and the psychological impact of the trauma associated with homelessness and experiences of being in the care of the State, the Covid-19 crisis has also led to higher levels of drug and alcohol misuse, as well as anxiety amongst residents, particularly in those with a predisposition to use substances in the first place.
Dr Declan Cronin, Counselling Psychotherapist and Clinical Director of the Apex Clinic based in Cork, echoed the experiences described at Cork Foyer for the psychology of young people in general, in the context of Covid-19.
“We have found it very noticeable that there has been a major increase in demand for psychology at our clinic throughout the pandemic, particularly amongst young people.
“The isolation that the Covid-19 crisis created led to functional issues as the lockdown ended, as well as mental health issues that were under the surface and unnoticed prior to it.”
As a result of this, Dr Cronin said that those in emergency and temporary accommodation are far more predisposed to developing psychological disorders than the general population.
Despite this stark challenge, however, Cork Foyer were keen to stress that the various agencies got together on regular conference calls to discuss a common strategy for protecting the homeless and at-risk of homelessness during the height of the pandemic, and that these meetings were ongoing.
Mr Waddingham said: “Our support was more local, rather than at ministerial level. We had numerous webinars with the various homeless services, GPs and the addiction services. These meetings allowed us to follow the outbreaks, and the smoothness of our reporting system with the HSÉ was really refreshing, and we worked incredibly closely with the HSÉ throughout the crisis.”
Cork Foyer via Cork City Council also offered a fleet of vehicles to the HSÉ for medical use throughout the crisis, and undertook more than 300 journeys for Covid-19 tests, as well as bringing individuals to treatment and detox facilities.
Mr Waddingham called on the Government to resist any urge to return to austerity, and at the very least to maintain the funding which was already delivered to Cork Foyer and its various counterparts such as Cork Simon and SVDP.
“Looking at the housing stock, the Government is building very rapidly and I would ask them to keep young single people, who make up the majority of our clientele, at the forefront of their minds in formulating housing policy. We also need to provide more client-specific, high-support accommodation for those with addictions and severe mental health issues. Otherwise these individuals are just recycled in and out of the housing and healthcare systems, and this is tragic, but also inefficient.”
Tomorrow, Matthew Moynihan talks to Catriona Twomey at Cork Penny Dinners.