It’s been feeding those in need since the Famine - now one of Ireland’s oldest charities is set to provide homes to people.
Soup-kitchen charity, Cork Penny Dinners, which serves some 2,000 hot meals a week to the needy and homeless in Cork, has bought a city centre apartment which has been converted into its first supported housing project.
The new property has been renovated to provide three two-bedroom apartments to house up to six people.
Its first occupants have been through a rigorous selection process and they are set to move in next month. They will be able to avail of a range of wrap-around supports to support them in their two-year ‘tenancy’ which will, at the end, lead to a reference from Cork Penny Dinners.
It is hoped that this reference will be accepted by local authorities as the people move towards their “home for life”.
Cork Penny Dinners director, Catriona Twomey, said the charity will help and support the people “all the way to get into their home for life”.
She said their first housing project arose out of research conducted in recent years into the many complex issues facing homeless people who were visiting their soup kitchen: “This is our way of showing the Government that there is a way."
“And it’s not just here in Cork. There are loads of towns and villages that could accept a house like this, with one or two, or a family in it. The people who pass through these houses won’t always need these support services. In fact, we hope that they will be able to mentor others through the system later on.”
Among the supports which will be on offer is the new Penny Works project has been devised by academics from UCC, in partnership with colleagues in Maynooth University and the University of Applied Sciences Krems, in Austria.
It will be piloted here in the city, as well as in a rural location in Co Cork.
The will identify the skills of homeless people, and after some retraining or mentoring, help place them in employment so that they can start to earn a living, and more importantly, recover a sense of hope.
Dr Fiona Chambers, head of the School of Education at UCC, said they were compelled to do something when they saw the number of homeless children moving towards 4,000: “We worked with Cork Penny Dinners and their homeless clients and asked them to ‘journey map’ a typical day for them - what’s it like to leave the shelter? Where do you go? What do you do? How do you feel? The word they used was 'hopeless'. They felt no hope, they felt unsafe."
“This transition piece will gather groups of chronic homeless, identify their skills, mentoring the skills and help them to get paid work to get the ability to rent and move into a place like this and start their lives again. It’s abominable what’s happening on the streets. The lack of hope is palpable and we are trying to inject education in as part of the solution.”
Cork Penny Dinners is already planning for one of its busiest Christmases, with plans to distribute thousands of food and gift hampers to families across the city and county. Ms Twomey said: “We have already started taking orders for the Christmas food hampers."
But it has issued a special appeal to the public to donate items such as underwear, vests, tights, socks, baby wipes, and women’s sanitary products. Ms Twomey explained: “We are always inundated with toothpaste and toothbrushes, and things like that, but the things we really need are these in-demand items. We can’t get enough of these. Children’s jackets are another big one."