Stephen and his fiancee Shauna Smyth
Homelessness is becoming a huge problem in Ireland as housing costs soar and thousands are left on the streets.
But, if people were to get together and look out for each other, homelessness could become a thing of the past.
Those are the thoughts of Stephen Lynch, founder of Midlands Affordable Accommodation, which provides emergency beds to people who, for whatever reason, have found themselves homeless.
“I don’t like to see anybody on the streets,” Stephen told the Longford Leader.
“I was homeless myself for ten months and I was suicidal. I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through.
“Being homeless was a nightmare and if only some of the people in power went through this experience, then they would understand and take more action to reduce the number of homeless people on the streets of Ireland.”
Having experienced it firsthand, Stephen knew he had to do something to help others in his position to get back on their feet.
He started by creating a Facebook page called Affordable Accommodation Athlone where people helped each other to find places to rent for reasonable prices and, as the number of people seeking help grew bigger and bigger, the page soon changed its name to Midlands Affordable Accommodation in order to cover the whole midlands region.
Now the organisation has grown even bigger, with a generous donor giving Stephen a large house and allotment of land in Tubberclare to turn into a 12-bedroom Emergency Accommodation Centre.
“A friend of mine was homeless and he was down by the river, suicidal. I tried to get him a room in Athlone but I couldn't. I put up an appeal on the Facebook page and a man contacted me saying he had a room to rent. His name is Kevin,” Stephen explained, later adding the Kevin wanted no recognition for his good deed - he just wanted to help.
“Kevin said he’d give my friend six weeks to find a place. Six weeks later, I contacted him, and asked how my friend was and Kevin said he could stay for as long as he wanted. He was after getting a job. And now he’s helping to renovate the centre.
“After that, Kevin said he had another room to rent and then another and then he said he had six rooms to rent and after that he told us he wanted to give us a house and that’s how we got the centre up and running.
“And there are 12 acres of land that he’s donated to Midlands Affordable Accommodation for the residents to do horticultural courses. Longford and Westmeath Education and Training Board have contacted me saying they might run a horticultural course on the land and Kevin has given me full permission to do it.
“So basically we’ll be growing fruit and vegetables. We’ll be selling at markets to give money back into our charity. And it’s giving the lads opportunity to get back into employment.”
Renovations are ongoing at the centre to create space for six more rooms, bringing the grand total to 12. All materials have been donated and labour is voluntary, with residents taking up tools to give back to the place that got them back on their feet.
The organisation is still growing at a fast pace with big plans for the future.
“We have a team of 20 now. I started off myself with my sister for six months and now we have a team of 20,” said Stephen.
His fiancee, Shauna Smyth is one of that team, sitting on a Board of Trustees with Denise Duffy and Sandra Hewitt and working closely with her partner to help the homeless.
In fact, the couple met through the charity, fell in love and got engaged. They're working together to ensure they can help as many homeless people as they can.
Stephen has even thrown his name into the hat for the General Elections in the Longford Westmeath constituency and is already planning to make a positive difference in his new home town.
“I was stopped by a landlord in Longford the other day. He beeped the horn at us and called us over,” said Stephen.
“He said he has two apartments to rent to help the homeless and he brought us to see them. They're being renovated and he wants to give them to homeless families.
“Then we had a meeting with him and he wants to open up an Emergency Accommodation Centre for women and for men here in Longford.”
Stephen said he moved to Longford town to be with Shauna and to be close to the centre, while also working to open a women's centre in the Longford area and another in Westmeath, without the help of government funding.
“We're doing the government's job,” said Stephen.
“It would never work without the people and the team. Every person that comes to us, we can help them.”
And Stephen takes no money from the work he's doing. His sole occupation at the moment is helping the homeless.
“I do this 24/7 and I don't get a penny. My fulltime job is founder of Midlands Affordable Acommodation and I don't want any money,” he explained.
“I do it for pride, not money. Everything we get goes back to the homeless. We're a non-profit organisation. We're probably the poorest organisation in the whole of Ireland, but yet we're doing the best.”
The process is simple: if someone on the streets needs help, a simple text or call to Stephen at 0851499911 or message to Facebook @MAAcharityorganisation, will have the team on the case as soon as possible.
“The power of the people is stronger than the people in power and I'm dedicated to Midlands Affordable Accommodation and to helping the homeless in whatever way I can,” Stephen concluded.