Future of local hostels under threat

Funding shortfalls have placed the futures of Bethany House and St Martha's Hostel in doubt.
Fears are growing for the future of Bethany House and St Martha’s Hostel in Longford town.

Fears are growing for the future of Bethany House and St Martha’s Hostel in Longford town.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), which runs the hostels on the Dublin Road, has indicated that the service will close next year if appropriate funding is not secured in the meantime. It says services need an increase of 22 per cent in grant aid to ensure they will continue.

St Martha’s Hostel and Bethany House provide over 30 emergency placements for men, women and children, who are homeless in this region. Over 120 people have used SVP homeless services in Longford town so far this year, including 25 children. The services have been running at a rising deficit in recent years following repeated cutbacks in funding from both the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the local authorities.

“Downward pressure on statutory funding over the past number of years, has left a number of our services vulnerable to closure and has contributed to a rising deficit in SVP homeless services, which is no longer sustainable,” Albert Perris, SVP’s National Hostels and Homes Co-ordinator said.

“I have a real concern around the future viability of our services in Longford town, in particular. SVP nationally has had to supplement local budgets in Longford in the past 18 month by over €100,000. This is no longer possible for the Society.

Mr Perris went on to say that if the local services are to survive, “a significant injection of funds and a more realistic and sustainable funding arrangement for 2015 and beyond” is necessary. “The Society, if at all possible, is committed to sustaining our services to people out of home and in need of support in the Midlands,” he continued.

“However, we have reached the point where difficult decisions may need to be taken. We sincerely hope, and believe, that this can be avoided. Our services in Longford provide emergency accommodation and support services to people from all over the four Counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath.”

In recent weeks SVP has met with Westmeath County Council as the lead agency for homeless services, the HSE, and Longford County Council, to highlight the position and to address the current crisis.

According to Mr Perris, all three agencies have acknowledged the importance of these services in the midlands, have recognised that these s ervices are of the highest standards and that they represent excellent value for money.

“There is no question as to whether these services are absolutely essential,” said Mr Perris.

“There is no question as to whether these service are of the highest standard. There is no question as to whether these services provide value for money.

The only question is where the funding is going to come from. We need an immediate commitment from both the HSE and the local authorities that funding shortfalls can and will be addressed for 2015.”

In a statement, the HSE said it did not have responsibility for housing. However it did fund a liaison nurse at the hostel facilities.

“HSE has responsibility for health and specifically in respect of this issue, the HSE funds a liaison nurse,” the statement read.