ON a recent Monday afternoon, residents of Edel House emergency shelter for women and children in Cork city are busy preparing food.
The comforting smell spreads throughout the hallways and rooms, invoking a reassuring sense of being in one’s home.
Women in Edel House can attend cooking classes, and they cook for themselves on a large stove.
Edel House, one of the Good Shepherd Cork’s most prominent accommodation projects, is home to hundreds of homeless women and children.
To cope with the ongoing housing crisis, the building on Grattan Street is now busier than ever.
Colette Foster, Edel House’s manager of five years, says that demand for their services has overwhelmingly increased in recent times.
Ms Foster, who has worked in homeless services since 1996, says the temporary nature of their accommodation has also slowly shifted into a permanent one.
“It used to be very unusual for anybody to stay here for a year — actually, it wasn’t unusual, it was unheard of,” she says.
“When that happened for the first time, about two years ago, we were all completely shocked, whereas now it’s happening on a frequent basis.”
Claire Harrington, a co-ordinator at Edel House for more than 16 years, says that being born homeless is now a recurring trend, with their shelter receiving “brand new” babies straight from the hospital.
“At the moment, we have a few one-year-olds, we have two one-month-olds and a six-month-old,” Ms Harrington explains.
As more children grow up in homeless services, the need to provide extra support, besides a roof over Cork’s young homeless, is becoming more apparent.
Edel House’s financial capacities, however, are stretched.
Ms Foster says people who are “stuck in homeless services”, such as vulnerable children, deserve to experience a stable, healthy life.
“Otherwise, the experience of homelessness is going to have a negative, long-term impact,” she adds.
Recently, a €30,000 grant has been offered to the homeless shelter to avail of, and the organisation now needs to ‘match’ the provided funding.
“We were in discussion with somebody, and they said that they can make a grant available, but we need to match that amount,” Ms Foster explains.
To raise that money, Edel House is now accepting donations through a crowdfunding campaign.
Dan Sweeney, a Cork-based vlogger, has launched the GoFundMe campaign on behalf of Ms Foster and her colleagues.
Mr Sweeney says he is keen to raise awareness about the housing crisis and has volunteered to garner donations for Edel House due to his interest in the issue.
Ms Foster is hoping that the final sum of €60,000 will help them take on more families, as well as providing additional support programmes.
“We have a huge waiting list at the moment; there are a lot of families whose needs are not being met,” she says.
Edel House typically tries to secure rooms in hotels and B&Bs for families it cannot take on — an arrangement that Ms Foster believes is less than ideal, particularly for children.
“Life in hotels and B&Bs would be much more difficult for children,” she reasons.
In late 2018, the number of homeless children increased by 136, making the figure for child homelessness a staggering 3,829.
The number of families accessing emergency accommodations in Ireland also increased by 171 people last year.
Poverty rates for the country have also risen from 17.8% in 2008 to 24.6% in 2016. Unregulated rent hikes make it increasingly difficult for low-income families to access housing.
Overall, Edel House’s mission, as described by its coordinators, is to go beyond emergency accommodation and improve the life quality of its users.
The shelter’s hallways are decorated with cartoon posters for children, and each family room has a television set up on the wall.
“We support children through the youth club, and we also provide children with intensive one-to-one support on a weekly basis,” Ms Foster says.
“We support the mums with counselling and a just-for-mums course.
“We have a homemaking programme running which supports people and helps them prevent their self-esteem from deteriorating.”
Artwork and paintings created by residents also hang from some of the Edel House accommodations’ rooms, and most of the paintings are vibrant, with sparkling colours, adding a touch of brightness to the surroundings.
Female residents who have experienced sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences can also access counselling and support through the homeless service.
“A key worker is available for women with whatever issues they are having,” Ms Foster says.
“We have a holistic approach; we’d look at all aspects of the person and things that they’re afraid to talk about and what they’d like support on.”
According to Ms Foster, most of their residents lack what she describes as a “safety net” that may safeguard others against homelessness.
“Some of them are either not originally from Ireland or their parents might be dead, or the relationship with the family might be broken down,” she says.
Ms Harrington adds that even when parents are alive and live in Cork, sometimes “they just don’t have enough room” to accommodate their homeless children.
The crowdfunding campaign for Edel House, which was launched on February 6, has raised more than €1,000 so far.
If you wish to donate to their crowdfunding campaign visit: https://www.gofundme.com/edelhouse.