The work of Midlands Simon in Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath is life changing and life enhancing for individuals and families who avail of its services, Mairead McGuinness MEP for the Midlands and first Vice-President of the European Parliament told a fundraising event on Sunday in Athlone.
“The focus on a housing first policy and the provision of support services by way of key workers to service users in their home is an essential part of the service,” she said.
“It places the needs of the individual and families involved at the core of the work.
The linking up of Midlands Simon and Sophia housing is also significant in terms of delivery and cost effectiveness with synergies between the two organizations, providing for a greater impact on the ground than if they were acting separately.”
The MEP praised the Presentation Sisters for their engagement with Midlands Simon, not only by providing state-of-the-art office facilities rent free to the organisation in Athlone but also providing land for the construction of new homes.
“The presentation sisters are providing a great service to the community and meeting a real need in a very practical way,” she said.
On Friday the Department of Housing approved €6.3 million for Midlands Simon’s collaborative partner Sophia to build 32 homes on lands owned by Presentation Sisters and Parish in Portarlington. That follows similar approval of €10 million to build 47 homes in Portlaoise on lands owned by Presentation Sisters. Sophia will build these homes and work closely with Midlands Simon Community.
Ms McGuinness said homelessness is not confined to big cities and there needs to be an adequate provision of funding to regional centres like Athlone, Longford and Mullingar.
“I know there are concerns about funding for emergency beds in Athlone which needs to be addressed,” she said.
The MEP said the links which Midlands Simon is making at European level through SMES (Mental Health Social Exclusion) are really important for the exchange of best practice when it comes to meeting, not just the challenges of homelessness but also linked challenges including mental health and addiction.
“SMES Europa is an important network and by being part of this network Midlands Simon both contributes its experience and learns from that of others.
“There’s much work to be done to break down administrative silos in Government departments and agencies, especially in providing mental health services that meet the needs of the person, the system needs to adapt to focus more on need from the perspective of the service user,” she said.
She said Midlands Simon’s approach in this regard is a model that deserves support. “Meeting the bricks and mortar needs of individuals and families without meeting all other needs will not work,” she warned.
She praised the staff of Midlands Simon, the volunteer board chaired by Mark Cooney and the women who attended the Nollaig Na mBan fundraising lunch.
In her address the MEP spoke of her journey from journalism to politics and urged women to “stand into the photo” to be seen in their respective career paths, to provide inspiration to others.
Politics, she said, is not for the faint hearted but it is an important job and while not an easy choice, she encouraged women to look at getting involved.
Prior to the lunch she met with the Chairman and Chief executive, board members and staff of Midlands Simon for a full briefing on their work.
“I have invited the organization to Brussels so that it can deepen its links with other organizations working in this area and with Commission officials and MEPs to share their experience,” she said.
Midlands Simon has much to offer in terms of practical and effective work on the ground and it is important to share that experience with others, she said.