*****The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) has chosen
Mid West Simon as their Charity for 2016*****
Inaugural NAGP fundraising ball which takes place in the
Strand Hotel in Limerick on September 24.
Strength in communities
This September, the National Association of General
Practitioners will join forces with the Mid West Simon Community for a gala
charity ball to help raise money for the homeless support organisation which
does essential work for people on the margins, writes Bernie Commins
In today's Ireland, the role of the Mid West Simon
Community is vast. Sadly. And so is its catchment area. Covering Limerick,
Clare and north Tipperary, the charity helps thousands of people; people who
are sleeping rough, homeless families, children in low income families, women
experiencing domestic violence, addicts, people from marginalised communities,
people coming from emergency accommodation, institutionalised care or places of
detention. The list goes on.
In 2016 Mid West Simon expects to have worked directly
with approximately 920 men, 790 women and 1,200 children and by the end of
2016, will have had approximately 17,500 contacts with people from all walks of
life looking for support and help.
But it is the crossover between clients who are seen by
Mid West Simon and some of the patients who are seen by GPs that has led to
this inaugural NAGP fundraising ball which takes place in the Strand Hotel in
Limerick on September 24.
NAGP vice president, Dr Yvonne Williams, says that
homelessness is a serious issue in Irish society and in her Limerick-based
practice, she is dealing with many families who are at risk of homelessness due
to the financial crisis in which the country is still embroiled.
“Apart from the health crisis, homelessness is a major
issue in society and is something that a lot of GPs are dealing with now,” said
“We have families who are at risk of homelessness or who
have already become homeless. I was aware of the work that Mid West Simon was
doing locally, and I wanted to help them.”
This is the NAGP's way of helping a well-regarded
organisation such as Simon which is supporting many of society’s least
supported members while also giving something back, according to Dr Williams,
but for the Mid West Simon, it is so much more than that.
“Of course the fundraising aspect of what the NAGP is
doing for us is so important , but the fact that such an august national
organisation as the NAGP has chosen to have a gala dinner for our benefit is a
great complement to us in a number of ways,” says Jackie Bonfield, general
manager of Mid West Simon Community.
“We are genuinely pleased that they have chosen to support our work. We, as are
all charities, acutely aware of the concern that is being felt by the public
around supporting organisations such as ours in the climate of distrust that
has been generated by recent scandals. Their recognition for the work that we
do is such a positive for us all who work in the Mid West Simon Community and
it a particular positive for our clients too.
Jackie believes that GPs and her organisation can work
more closely in certain situations. She tells GP Ireland that Mid West Simon
would like to have the opportunity to make a presentation to the NAGP in
advance of the fundraiser to highlight the importance of the relationship
between GPs and Mid West Simon.
“We do a significant amount of work with people with
addiction and mental health issues and it is very important to be able to make
that link with their GPs so that they can have a better understanding of the
work that we are doing.
“We would like to link in with doctors in the region in
relation to trying to access methadone programmes, for detox programmes, for
outlining clients' mental health and addiction issues.”
Both Mid West Simon and GPs are on the same page when it
comes to the view that certain services should be provided locally. And in some
cases, Jackie believes that with the support of GPs, they might be in a
position to break down some of the barriers that Mid West Simon comes up
against when trying to access certain services for clients in rural areas, such
as methadone or community detoxification programmes.
“Right now, if someone wants to take part in a detox
programme for their addiction they have to go to a residential centre, but
often this isn’t necessarily the best solution. For some it would be much more
beneficial if they could remain in their own homes and undergo their
detoxification in their own community. That’s not possible at the moment but there’s
no reason it couldn’t happen if the right support structure was in place.
Perhaps with a joint effort by ourselves and the GPs we could look at something
Heroin addiction, for example, is not confined to urban
areas, according to Ms Bonfield.
“The only way to deal with it is to provide these
services locally,” she says, adding that it would require the support of the
Health Service Executive (HSE) to make it happen.
Dual diagnosis, which is when a person has a substance
abuse issue alongside a mental health illness, is another serious concern for
some clients of Mid West Simon.
“In many cases there is a link between drug addiction and
poor mental health and it needs to be recognised and treated. We have
experienced a number of our clients being admitted to A&E with a drug
overdose only to find that they have been discharged a few hours later with no
supports or follow-up. There are definitely gaps in the system and perhaps
working together we may be able to solve some of these important issues. ”
The annual running costs for Mid West Simon are about
€350,000 and approximately €200,000 needs to be fundraised each year to keep
the charity ticking over.
The State has provided capital funding in the past which
has enabled Mid West Simon to purchase and subsequently rent a number of
properties to generate revenue to pay for core costs. The properties are rented
as accommodation units to people who would otherwise be homeless. On top of
that, they have two charity shops.
“So, revenue from the shops and rent generate 40 per cent
of our funds and we need to fundraise for the rest,” says Ms Bonfield.
“The money that we will raise from the NAGP Gala will go
specifically towards a homelessness prevention programme that we run in partnership
with the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO). These funds will go
directly towards funding the staff who work with people who are at risk of
losing their home because of mortgage arrears or because of rent increases.”
This is the 'new' form of economic homelessness that
patients of Dr Williams and her colleagues are experiencing.
Jackie explains: “We still have the same level of
homelessness that has always been there and that would include people who are
very vulnerable, who have mental health issues and addiction issues, and of
course family breakdown. Those issues would have always been there and will
continue to be there.
“But what we are seeing now is economic homelessness
where people are losing their homes because of two reasons in particular: bank
repossessions of their home due to unsustainable mortgage repayments; and the
other thing is rent increases are becoming so unmanageable that many people are
going into rent arrears and get evicted, or they just leave the property
because they know that they can no longer pay the rent.
Other people, Jackie says, are referred to as couch
surfers because they do not have the means to pay rent so they stay with
friends or family in over-crowded situations or unsuitable accommodation.
“They have a roof over their heads but that’s not a home
in the true sense of the word!” she says.
As well as negotiating affordable rents with landlords on
behalf of clients or helping clients to find new accommodation, Mid West Simon
also provides a deposit loan scheme. And a percentage of the fundraiser
proceeds will go towards that also.
“We will loan a deposit to the person, so that they can
secure rented accommodation. What this does is it prevents them from being
locked out of the market because they can't afford a deposit – along with a
month’s rent.” The loan is then repaid in small amounts over an agreed period
Jackie says that in the mid west region, 1,700 people are
availing of Mid West Simon's various food banks; all are either homeless, at
risk of being homeless, or are couch surfers. Families at risk of losing their
homes are using the food bank as a way to save money for other bills.
“It is fact, these people are taking food from the food
bank to help pay for another bill, whether it is the mortgage, rent, or the
electricity,” says Jackie.
“Research tells us that Ireland has the highest level of
food poverty for children. It is scary to think that we are the only food bank
provider in the mid west region and we do not receive any core funding from the
State to provide that service which internationally, has been recognised as one
of the worst in Europe.”