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Sophia Housing

Friday, 11 December 2009

Sophia Housing celebrates its 10th Birthday.

2009 brings the celebration of a decade of devoted care for the homeless, not just in Dublin but nationally. Sophia housing was established in 1999 to provide integrated services for marginalised people and is now providing holistic supported housing to families and individuals throughout Ireland while allowing them to maintain their dignity.

Sophia's mission is to offer families and individuals a safe place where they can live and learn to make a positive difference in their lives. It is a place where families and individuals live and learn to skills to cope, deal with, and confront real and true everyday life and living issues. These are issues which the majority take for granted. Sophia Housing offers families and individuals avenues to find solutions in dealing and coping with these daily living challenges.

Sophia Housing provides quality education and support along with helping people develop new living skills while maintaining a person's self esteem, self-worth, and dignity. Sophia provides a wide range of activities in the family home or in Sophia nurturing centres, where awareness of the children's culture is, and always will be respected, resourced, and honoured.

Sophia currently caters for approximately two hundred and sixty six families and individuals at various national Sophia Housing projects. It has grown to approximately two hundred houses/apartments with plans for another one hundred houses/apartments currently under review.

Facilities that are at Cork Street:
Sophia has developed a social housing project at the Mercy Convent, Cork Street. This consists of new buildings together with the refurbishment of the existing hostel for women, which existed before Sophia .

The hostel houses 20 women and was formerly operated by the Sisters of Mercy. The hostel is incorporated within the new developments.

The development in Cork Street also includes 20 one/two/three bed apartments, Creche/Nurturing place for children, Restaurant and a Wisdom Centre - a training/ therapy/counselling and a reflective space. The Wisdom Centre offers a safe place where one can seek wisdom of mind, heart and spirit, It is a space which welcomes people who want to step back from the many pressures of their daily lives and environments

Eamon Martin, CEO, Sophia

Eamon Martin:

Who are the people that Sophia help?

Well Sophia helps people who are homeless and those who are long-term homeless, but we are really all about working with people who are homeless and have 'special needs'

What do you mean by special needs?
This can mean a number of things.. It can mean people like Eileen who you saw in the VT, and her needs were that she did not feel safe in her own home. We have also worked with people like Paul (who is here today) and we were able to provide a social worker with him.. It is about taking a 'holistic' approach to each individual and providing them with as much support can. We have other people like Paul - and we can supply support workers to them to get them through the difficult time that they may be encountering. We might tell the local authority that, we want to help people who are at the top of the list, but the main priority for us are people who have special needs and need a lot of all round care.

How do people come to Sophia?
People can be referred here by different registered authorities. They can, for example, come her if they have been referred on to us through a public healthy nurse, or that might be referred to us by a social worker within the HSE or from the local authority..

Do they pay rent in Sophia?
Yes, they pay rent to us like they would do in a local authority. We tray and help them learn to budget and how to take into account their different utility bills. They pay a small amount of rent like they would in a local authority.

One of the difference about Sophia as opposed to homeless centres/facilities is that people can stay here long term and have their own apartment?
Yes, some people have been here for many years, since we started really, and we have apartments for single people and as families. This can be a great comfort to many people and they can become very happy here.

You started Sophia from scratch 10 years ago without a penny?
Yes, we did not have one penny when we started. We started in a little small office in Inchicore, and we had no resources what so ever.. We were in the Aras with the President recently and she was commenting on that fact that we had started with nothing and how great an achievement it was.

How did it pick up from there?
Well we registered Sophia with the social housing body.. as regards money, we got a little bit of funding from religious congregation to keep us going in the first year to keep us up and running.. Then, when people thought that we were serious, we got a local authority development grant in and around our second year.. We also do some fundraising, bits and bobs over the past number of years. We will have to do a lot more fundraising over the next year or so because of cutbacks.

How many housing centres (like the one that you just seen in Cork Street) do Sophia have at the moment?
Between owning and managing various centres, we have about 200 different centres for people who are out of home.

What kind of funding do you get at the moment?
At the moment we get capital costs funding - which is substantial capital money from the Dep. of the Environment. We also get revenue funding for staff.. And because we have people with special needs, we also get grants from the HSE and local authorities.

Has of any of your funding been cut?
Yes, we have had to reduce wages for people.. because of the cuts, we are not looking to the future with more cuts planned.. they are talking about cutting our funding that comes from the HSE by 10/12% .

Has the budget affected you?
Well we know that some of the funding that comes from the HSE will be affected by the budget. We don't know the extent of this until sometime later. The budget will also affect our tenants as 99% of them are either on social welfare or some form of disability allowance.

Paul Gilsenan

Paul, you were going through a difficult time and 'living out of suitcase' before you became aware of Sophia.. tell us a bit about your story?
Yes, before I came to Sophia I as living out of a suitcase or about 6 years.. I went through a difficult time. My marriage broke up around 1998.. Then I lost my job.. just before my marriage I had gotten cancer and I actually got married through my cancer treatment.. I got married just after 1994.. Basically, after 1998, I had to move out of my home and had now where to stay.

You actually were living in your car for a period of time?
Yes, I stayed in my car sometimes, I also stayed in some rented accommodation, but I had nothing steady. Some places would not take my welfare check as well and that was difficult.

Form 1998 up until 2005, I was effectively homeless, and I was living in my car for 75% of that time. I stayed in a tent for some of that time as well.
What was it like living in car?
It was awful. I felt like I was the lowest of the low - it was totally degrading.. It was also cold and damp and I never got proper sleep.. I used to drive the car to the harbour in Rush and stay there. In the car if felt really awful to be honest - it was really a low point in my life.

How did you hear about Sophia?
Well it is a bit of a story.. When I was going through this difficult time.. I was on tables for stress.. and I was taking more tablets than I should have been.. I was supposed to only take one tablet, but I was taking three a day and I drinking quite heavily at the time. I had to call the ambulance one time, I didn't over-dose, but it looked like I was in trouble.. Anyway, I was brought to the hospital and when they (the doctors) were looking after me and providing me with psychologists, someone from a homeless organisation told me about Sophia. I got in touch with a social worker from Sophia called Conor - he really sorted my life out and I don't know where I would have been without Sophia or without Conor.

You stayed in Sophia for a few months, but their social worker kept in contact with you for a two year period and helped sort your life out?
Yes, I was in a housing centre operated by Sophia in Donabate for a few months so that I could get sorted. I was also trying to get on a list for social housing and I wasn't successful. What the local authority actually did was they leased the house out to Sophia for a year. I then paid my rent to the people in Sophia and then they paid the local authority.In the second year, I was able to pay the rent myself. My social worker used to come up and visit me once a week for about two years, and the support that he gave me was great. I was in touch with my Social worker from Sophia during 2005 and 2006. I have been on my own since then.

Was it difficult for you when your social worker left?
Yes, it was. One day Conor (the social worker) said to me that he could no more for me and I was now able to 'fend for myself', which is normal. I was kind of like, gosh, I am going to be on my own from now on. When Conor was no longer with me, I was really hard for the first eight weeks, but then I gradually realised that everything would be ok..

How would you describe what Sophia has done for you?
Words can't describe it.. I don't now where I would have been without the people of Sophia.. I cannot express what it actually means to me what, in particular, their social worker did for me.. The thing is, not am lot of people know about Sophia. When I tell people about them and what they have done for me, they say, 'Sophia who'?.. I think more people should know about it..