COPE Galway CEO, Michael Smyth has warned of the effects of the worsening crisis environment within which COPE Galway supports people across the community, while demand for services accelerates.
At the online launch of their 2021 Annual Report on Monday, Mr Smyth referred to how:
The challenges of the pandemic, the housing crisis and the resulting local, national and international staffing crisis threatened delivery of our services in 2021. And yet, thanks to the immense effort and resilience of our staff, and with the support of our volunteers, our services remained operational.”
In 2021, COPE Galway supported 2,885 people across its Homeless, Domestic Abuse and Senior Support Services – a 10% increase on the year before. Representatives from the three service areas set the focus for the launch event by examining what we value in society and how, from a human rights perspective, we can challenge inequalities faced by the people they support.
Sinead Carey, COPE Galway’s Head of Homeless Service put the situation into context, “We are in a perfect storm. The worsening homeless crisis has meant that there has never been as high a need for our services by the people of Galway. For people on lower or no income, for older people facing unaffordable rents, for a mother unable to leave an abusive situation with her children because they cannot find somewhere to live – the challenges of finding a home of your own seem insurmountable.”
In illustrating the impact of their work over 2021, service leads indicated that the shortage of available housing and of emergency accommodation has led to a sense of hopelessness for many individuals and families. The pandemic restrictions and the increasing cost of living have also been an aggravating factor in domestic abuse, with women forced to reside with abusive partners because of the risk of homelessness in light of the housing crisis. Reports of older people’s growing sense of isolation and anxiety included an account of how some have to choose between heat and food, withdrawing to one room of the house due to economic worries.
Keynote speaker, Michael O’ Flaherty, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, said,
As the cost of living soars, homeless people, victims of domestic abuse and older people are first to feel the brunt. We must stand up for the human rights of everyone. At the same time, it is vital that organisations, such as COPE Galway, continue supporting people in need and that our governments help civil society to flourish.” ”
In 2021, the charity’s responsive service provision increased despite constant staff shortages and pandemic restrictions throughout the year. Their homeless service supported 1,316 people, a 14% increase on 2020, where 119 families with 322 children and 814 single people sought assistance last year. Sinead Carey noted, “Each one of these 1316 people represents a unique individual with their own story, challenges and traumas, strengths and skills and families and friends, stories like those so generously shared in the report.”
Sinead observed that the issue of homelessness has been a priority for the community and voluntary sector for decades. In that time, despite the various housing strategies and initiatives to address the wider housing need situation we have not seen solutions that have worked to end homelessness. “We will shortly see reports of a staggering 11,000 people in Ireland who do not have a place to call home. Examining this issue from a human rights perspective, we must ask how Government can prioritise achieving every citizen’s basic human right to a home of your own, when the housing crisis is affecting every facet of society.”
Domestic Abuse Service
In 2021 COPE Galway supported 696 women and their children experiencing domestic abuse, an increase of 15% on the previous year. Their outreach service expanded to 12 locations in County Galway. In protecting and supporting victims of domestic abuse, the service will continue to seek to challenge the conditions and norms in society that allow abuse to take place so that we can achieve a society with zero tolerance of domestic abuse.
The children and young people’s service, Solas Óg at COPE Galway’s Domestic Abuse Service expanded to all corners of Galway in 2021, supporting 72 children and young people, as well as the children residing at Modh Eile House, COPE Galway’s Domestic Abuse refuge, (128 admissions). Ciara Tyrrell, who coordinates the service, referred to Article 24 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights, which concerns the rights of the child, one of which is to have a child’s view taken into consideration on matters which concern them. “The impact of early and explicitly targeted intervention is clear – we see young people regain their voice, grow their resilience, move towards becoming the people they want to be and not limited by their negative experiences”.
Senior Support Service
The number of people aged 65 and over in Ireland is expected to double by 2031. Throughout 2021, COPE Galway supported 873 older people with healthy, independent ageing at home. They also prepared and delivered 69,730 meals to 757 people at home, attending lunch clubs or residing in COPE Galway’s services.
Community Support Worker, Noelle Jennings remarked on the issue of isolation and loneliness as a growing concern across the world, one that is linked to serious health conditions and that diminishes the autonomy and dignity of people as we age. “We are now two years into the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing, a global collaboration to improve the lives of older people, their families and the communities in which they live. Every day, our workers see the impact of isolation on the wellbeing of older people. From a human rights perspective, we must all work together to address discrimination against older people, ensure that older people are included and valued and can enjoy their right to participate fully in society as they age.”
In closing the event, Michael Smyth reflected, “the challenges of the past two years have given pause for a re-imagination of how we can contribute to the kind of community we want to be a part of in the future, and reflect on what we value as a society.” As the issues faced by the people COPE Galway works with are not going away, he called on Government to better support the community and voluntary sector. “We must value this work as equal to all sectors of working society. In this way, we can avoid the emotional cost of the challenging work that’s done every day in support of people in our community.”
You can read the personal accounts that illustrate the strength and determination of some of the people COPE Galway worked with in 2021 – download the annual report from copegalway.ie/annualreport from 10am Monday 21 November.
COPE Galway is a local Galway organisation whose vision is for a community where every person is valued, cared for and supported at every stage of life. COPE Galway has been delivering essential social services across Galway City and County for almost 50 years. We understand and are responsive to the needs of people in our community who struggle with the challenges of homelessness and domestic abuse and we support older people towards healthy and active ageing. We seek to make a difference by empowering people, creating change and strengthening communities.