Homeless service respects those who do not wish to be counted

NOVAS volunteer handing out cups of tea and coffee to Limerick's homeless

The Street Outreach homelessness initiative is provided by NOVAS, a voluntary organisation which provides 25 services nationwide and accommodation for marginalised households throughout Ireland.

Project manager of the initiative, Chris O’ Connor, outlined that the service operates an impressive seven days a week, 365 days a year.

After receiving an astonishing donation of €10,000 from Secret Millionaire, Richard Mulcahy, in 2012, the Street Outreach became a nightly service.

In 2016, they estimated that around 11, 000 people used the service however, he highlighted that it is impossible to predict how many people will turn up on the night.

“I can’t tell you if there will be five people or twenty-five people.”

It is operated entirely by volunteers and the volunteer team now comprises of around 50 individuals, some of which have been volunteering with NOVAS for years.

Chris O’ Connor outlined that: “People start giving back maybe when their family has grown up who can commit to volunteering, we have a lot of retired volunteers”.

In relation to training new volunteers, O’ Connor explained that it involves shadowing an experienced volunteer.

“Volunteers are our greatest advocates out there.”

Every night, two volunteers drive the Street Outreach van and collect the food from the two main supporters of the service; Greenhills hotel who provide hot dinners and Hook and Ladder who donate cakes, buns and scones.

NOVAS Street Outreach van.

NOVAS Street Outreach van.

“Hook and Ladder also recently increased the amount of food they’re giving us because I asked them to and that was no problem”.

The volunteers then park on Upper William Street in the city and give out the provision of food to the homeless which is supplemented with donations of hot tea, coffee and sandwiches.

They also receive food through different schemes such as the FEAD programme to support “the most marginalized”.

He emphasized that the service is completely anonymous: “Some people don’t want to be counted, so we respect that”. He also added that: “People don’t tend to want to tell us too much either”.

NOVAS evidence would suggest that there are currently more people at risk of becoming homeless.

“Last December we opened an emergency sheltered accommodation to support people who were looking for accommodation here and couldn’t access it because it was full.”

Chris explained that it’s not just homeless people who use the service. Some are living in long term accommodation who don’t have the support or the skills to cook, while others come “for the companionship and to have a chat with the lads in the van it’s very important to them”.

He also said there are those who are couch surfing and others who are sleeping rough on the streets of Limerick.

NOVAS Communications and Development Manager, Una Burns, stated that some homeless might start off by coming once a week until: “They build up that trust with the volunteers and in the meantime the volunteers would have flagged it with Chris and would be advising how best to support them”.

O’ Connor described one particular young man who was accessing the street services who had significant mental health problems and now has a home for life in the long-term accommodation services in McGarry House “that all came about very slowly around four or five years ago”.

He also added that the service relies entirely on volunteers and donations.

“It gets no state funding whatsoever.”

He said that it costs €20 every single night on food excluding the donations, however the big cost for them is really the van itself.“

There’s a lot of expense in keeping that van out on the road.”

Una had mixed feelings regarding the 18 million which was recently allocated from the budget to the homelessness crisis.

“We cautiously welcome it but we would like to see more emphasis on the health of homeless people and attacking their addiction needs.”

Burns also explained that the longer people are remaining homeless the more “complex” their needs become.

She added that according to the CSO there are 183,000 vacant homes in the country and that 10.2 percent of the properties in Limerick are vacant.

“Although we’re happy to see 3,000 extra houses being built, there’s no mention of a tax on vacant properties, which requires a more immediate response than building.”

Burns concluded by saying it was a: “Mixed budget, they could have done more”.

For more information about the Street Outreach Service please visit:

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