Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Fears for homeless services in Newry as donations decline

Two of Newry’s longest established homeless services are becoming increasingly worried about a lack of donations after experiencing a significant decrease in the amount of contributions received from the public in recent months. Both the Salvation Army and the Simon Community, who work together to assist the homeless and vulnerable in Newry,  fear that a continued drastic decline in contributions could have a severely negative impact on the crucial services they provide.

Speaking to The Examiner about the situation, Major John Parrott from the Salvation Army and Simon Community Team Leader Marianne McCaul agree that the emergence of other homeless charities in Newry is having a knock-on effect on their donations.  Whilst commending the work carried out by other voluntary homeless groups, the charity chiefs are keen to remind the public that gifts and donations received by the Simon Community and the Salvation Army from the Newry community are directly helping the homeless in Newry.

“Other homeless charities in the area are doing great work and we can’t take that away from them, but we are getting increasingly worried about the lack of donations that the Simon Community are now receiving,” said Marianne McCaul.

“We work with at least 17 individuals a day who all face the plight of homelessness, some of whom are not eligible for public funds,” she added.

“We rely so much on the goodwill and caring nature of the Newry people to provide much needed basic essentials such as food and toiletries to give to those in most need.

“The winter months are coming and without resources like sleeping bags, blankets and warm clothes to give people, I fear it will be the homeless in Newry that suffer.”

Marianne added that, contrary to figures that have appeared on social media in the past few months,

“There is little evidence of rough sleeping in Newry because of the collaboration from services like the Simon Community, the Salvation Army and the Housing Executive.”

Major Parrott also moved to clear up any confusion over rumours that up to 400 people are homeless in Newry, pointing out that such statistics are “unfounded and misleading.”

“We have not seen or been aware of any involvement in the Newry area in recent months by those who are posting this information and my concern is that such wide sweeping comments, can in fact divert much needed services and resources away from the genuine homeless in need in the Newry area.”

The Salvation Army has operated in Newry for the last 126 years and is recognised as the largest provider of social services to the homeless in the UK. Despite the recent decline in donations, it has continued to work tirelessly to support the homeless in Newry, identifying and practically assisting those living on the street or “sofa-surfing” in Newry.  The charity’s ‘Homeless Not Hopeless’ campaign – launched in May – has provided practical assistance, food, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, toiletries and sign-posting to the Housing Executive, the Simon Community and the Immigration Services as well as other agencies.

The charity was recently alerted to the plight of a family who appeared to be homeless, after a concerned member of the public located a camp set up as a form of shelter and living accommodation for a family with small children.  The PSNI were informed and together with the Salvation Army they have maintained regular checks on the location in the hope they can provide help.

A group of foreign national men, who were found near the Courthouse were also assisted – with the Salvation Army providing them with food, a tent, blankets and clothing, while another man who sought help from the charity was referred to the Simon Community following eviction.

“All of our volunteers are trained and developed in skills relating to mental health, addictions, abuse, safeguarding, child protection, conflict management and general issues of homelessness,” explained Major Parrott.

“We know there is a lot to be aware of when dealing with the issue of homelessness and its related problems and all our units work alongside an experienced worker with a strong  background in homelessness.

“We have maintained a regular check on suspected, reported or known habitats of ‘homeless’ over a wide radius from our city centre locations over the last few months and since that time we have built up resources of sleeping bags, mats, some clothing, toiletries, health packs, and blankets, and networked resources, two of which include the Simon Community and Housing Executive. We also work as a referral agency to the Tuff Cycle scheme managed by councillors Kevin McAteer and Patrick Brown.

“The Salvation Army can guarantee that any donations of cash, resources and volunteers are used for those on our own doorstep requiring help from homelessness.”

Mr Parrott says the stalwart christian homeless charity is eager to develop and refine its homeless services and in the coming months some changes will take effect which will include the opening of a Homeless Surgery within the city centre on Friday evenings where callers can avail of hot drinks and carton meals, clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, toiletries and support with associated services.

The Salvation Army’s Newry Knights teams will continue their work on Saturday nights in the city assisting the vulnerable including any homeless person that they come across on the streets.

“Newry is going to see a Salvation Army fit for Newry and the district,” said Major Parrott.

“Already we are promoting and working on a number of initiatives including a new men’s fellowship and outings, home visitation and befriending services and the extension of our One Cup Coffee Scheme beyond supporting only the homeless into an area of social care for other groups such as families, single parents and individuals experiencing struggles in and around the home.”

The One Cup scheme will be rebranded in the coming weeks to the “Cup O’ Care” scheme and participating and new venues will be briefed about the forthcoming change. Major Parrott appeals for any new businesses who wish to come on board this fantastic scheme, which does not cost business owners a penny, so that more people who have fallen on hard times can enjoy a hot drink and warm surroundings. Mr Parrott is also keen for the Salvation Army to extend its reach into rural locations throughout the district and urges anyone in south Armagh who requires their help to get in touch.

The charity leader hopes the people of Newry will once again show their renowned generosity and care to the local homeless services, the Salvation Army and the Simon Community, so that these historic organisations can continue to help the homeless and vulnerable of Newry.  In particular, any businesses that can offer practical help such as B&B accommodation when necessary are asked to contact The Salvation Army via its facebook page or the The Way Community Centre on Margaret Street in Newry.