They say we’re all just two pay days away from being homeless and for many of us it’s just a stark thought - but for others it’s already a reality.
As Christmas rapidly approaches and we look forward to spending time with friends and family there are many people in Northern Ireland experiencing the isolation and loneliness of being homeless.
Official figures from the Department for Social Development (DSD) show that the number of households who presented as homeless in 2015-2016 was 18,628. Given Northern Ireland’s population of around 1.8 million people, that equates to one in every 100 households which is roughly the same as the entire population of Antrim town.
The emerging trend of homelessness is becoming more of a problem for younger people with currently one in two of clients in Simon Community NI accommodation projects being under twenty-six years of age.
Simon Community NI has spent the past 40 years opening its doors to give a welcome and shelter to those who are homeless and sometimes hopeless in 22 communities across Northern Ireland.
As the festive season gets into full flight, Simon Community NI are celebrating each of those projects and the people who live and work in them with their ‘Living Advent Calendar’ which was funded by a Big Lottery Fund grant of £5,000.
Each day in the run up to Christmas something special will happen at each project, highlighting the work and partnerships in each of the 22 projects. The events will include everything from carol singing, community coffee mornings, cooking Christmas dinner and decorating.
The Ballymena project will host a Christmas party on Saturday, December 24 to wrap up the festive living advent event.
Hannah who has been with the Simon Community for just four months spoke about her experiences and how it has made a difference to her life.
“I was made homeless because of issues in the family home,” said the 19-year old. “It was really hard and took a lot of getting used to. I went to the Housing Executive and told them my circumstances and they offered me emergency accommodation with Simon Community.
“I was terrified when I first moved in and cried the first day because I didn’t want to be here, I wanted to be at home. Now I feel a lot more comfortable and I’m used to the other young people here and the staff.”
Forced to live apart from her family Hannah has learned that the staff are always on hand for support if needed.
“It can be hard at times being in this situation, I just take every day as it comes and it’s good that the staff are here to support you if you need help,” added Hannah. “There are also counsellors who come in if you need extra support.”
Simon Community NI provides much more than a roof over a head, it also help their clients get back their lives on track.
“I’m working on a project at the minute and we all have different roles within a committee to develop a common room here where we are living. It’s really good to be involved in something like this.” said Hannah.
“Once completed, we will get an OCN (Open College Network) qualification based on the skills we have used and developed so that is great too. This has really helped with my communications skills and team building. It also teaches you to get along with other people in a working environment.
“I’m also studying for an Access to University qualification so I can move on and train to be a nurse. My plans are that when I’m financially ready, I want to move on into my own home.
“I am really, really thankful to have been here.”
Simon Community NI will be holding a number of advent events in the run up to Christmas with several taking place in Belfast.
On December 14 between 3-5pm they will showcase the talents of their clients with an art exhibition at their Central Office, 25-27 Franklin Street, Belfast.
On the 13th and 20th day of Advent the Simon Community clients will be entertaining travellers and providing some festive cheer when they ‘Sing 4 Simon at Belfast Central Station.
Finally on December 23rd their Christmas Extravaganza will take place at the Belfast Foyer, 3-5 Malone Road
To find out about other events visit: http://www.simoncommunity.org/opening-doors-advent-across-northern-ireland/