Simon - It’s not so simple when you are helping Ballymena’s homeless

Kelly Dougan of the Simon Community. INBT34-221AC
Kelly Dougan of the Simon Community. INBT34-221AC

In the first eight months of this year, the Simon Community in Ballymena have worked with 200 people who have either been made homeless or who are facing the prospect of losing the roof over their heards.

It is down to the hard work and effort of the local team that none of these people end up sleeping on the streets of Ballymena.

The Simon Community provides emergency accommodation; advice and community support for people who are homeless or who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Often the stereotype of a homeless person is somebody who has struggled with addictions or drugs; however Kerry McWilliams, Team Leader of the Simon Community in Ballymena says this is far from accurate.

Speaking to the Ballymena Times, Kerry explained that her team deal with 30 or 40 people every day that require assistance and currently have 18 people staying in the Mill House Hostel, in Harryville.

“Only three people out of the current 18 residents have an addiction problem, the threat of homelessness is the result of many factors, especially in the current economic climate.”

Kerry explained that the range of facilities and services provided by the Simon Community not only help to keep people from sleeping rough on the streets but also help people get back on their feet. A lot of people contact the organisation when they realise they are at risk of being made homeless, often through problems with debt. Much of the work carried out by the charity is not the rehousing of homeless people but preventing people from getting to that situation.

One of the services offered is Community Based Support which provides a whole package of support, without necessarily moving into the hostel at Mill House.

Also every Thursday, the Simon Community host a ‘Making Moves’ facility in Twickenham House from 1 to 2pm. This superb facility offers people the chance to speak to a number of agencies in one place and in one room.

“People can get all the help and advice they might need in one place, saving a lot of exhausting trips to different appointments. If they speak to one agency about getting access to the food bank, they could also speak to another agency about help with debt, benefits or housing” Kerry added.

Another service is the Simon Community Harm Reduction Team who can help people understand the damage that addictions cause in their lives and help with specialist knowledge and advice to reduce the harm. Staff also work to improve family and social networks by helping people to rebuild and maintain family relationships.

Of course, when all other avenues fail and homelessness is unavoidable, there is the Mill House hostel, which can provide shelter for those who need it.

Kerry explained that this is a last resort and the team will do everything they can to prevent it.

“Moving people into a hostel is what happens when all else fails. There is staff on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We also have a crash bed facility for those who have found themselves without shelter.

“We’d like to remove any stigma and concern surrounding a Simon Community facility. We have brilliant and very valued working relationships with local Churches, St Vincent de Paul in the area, they can refer people who require support and they provide furniture and food parcels, and cook nutritious meals for clients in the hostel. Galgorm Resort and Spa, 7 flours bakery, local butchers and so many other local agencies and businesses help us with our work, we can’t take all the credit, helping people at risk of homelesseness is definitely a Community effort”