REGINA Coeli House, the West Belfast homeless shelter that has been supporting women for nearly 80 years, is facing closure after its residents were notified its last day of operation will be the end of this month.
In notification sent to its 21 residents, management stated that it will no longer be providing “accommodation and support” due to a lack of “adequate funding” from the Housing Executive.
The Legion of Mary-owned building in Lake Glen Crescent is a lifeline to the many homeless and vulnerable women who avail of its services.
Resident Josephine Bennett told Daily Belfast that the women are going to be “put out on the streets come August 31”.
“We were told on Friday that the place is closing and that the funding is being cut completely,” said Josephine. “I’ve been living here four months and basically we are going to be put out on the streets.
“Some of the residents have been living here for over two years. They have created a home here. You have women with mental health problems, alcohol and drug problems. We are just distraught.”
Josephine said that up to 20 staff are also set to lose their jobs.
“It’s a terrible situation to be in. We are a family here, we support each other. Regina Coeli is a secure place for women who feel vulnerable. We feel safe here.”
Women from the hostel, supported by local political representatives, lined the Falls Road on Monday afternoon demanding that the hostel remain open.
Many wore t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Save Our Hostel’ and carried banners reading ‘Homeless not Hopeless’, ‘Legion of Mary Makes Women Homeless and Jobless’ and ‘We Are The Same as Everybody Else’.
West Belfast MP Paul Maskey told Daily Belfast that there had been a number of issues at the hostel.
“Whenever we heard what was happening, I, along with Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Fra McCann and Councillor Matt Garrett went straight down to the hostel,” he said.
“We met with residents and I spoke with the hostel manager. Fra McCann and I met with the CEO of the Housing Executive on Monday and it is my understanding that the Housing Executive and Legion of Mary, who own the building, will be meeting on Wednesday morning to try and find a resolution. I know that the Housing Executive up until 2014 been awarding Regina Coeli House funding of £106,000. In 2014 this was increased to £235,000 but was not accepted by the Legion of Mary who own the building.”
Mr Maskey said that the treatment of the women who live in the hostel has been treated “terribly unfair”.
“There are 21 women living in the hostel, some are very vulnerable and for them to be told that they will be out on the streets in three weeks time is terribly unfair. It’s an extremely poor way of treating these women. I do think there is still room for a deal to be done here and I have asked the deadline of August 31 to be removed at this stage. The Housing Executive, Legion of Mary and hostel management need to get into a room and secure the future of this much-needed facility.
“We are working hard to get this resolved. The whole situation has been handled very, very badly.”
SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said if the hostel were to close “it would be a cruel and devastating blow to residents and staff”.
“It is vital now that every effort is made by residents and political representatives to keep the hostel open and that essential accommodation and vital services provided by Regina Coeli for 80 years are protected,” he said.
"We have met senior management in Regina Coeli who made clear their desire to continue to provide accommodation and support to the homeless and vulnerable women in Andersonstown.
“Regina Coeli has a major problem with an absence of sustainable and adequate funding stream from the Housing Executive. The HE must now work with Regina Coeli and others to secure the necessary resources to keep this vital service open.
“It is imperative that the HE Supporting People strategy, which provides housing support services aimed at improving the quality of life and independence of vulnerable people, is adequately funded to support services such as Regina Coeli."
A spokesperson from the Housing Executive said:
“The Housing Executive has not withdrawn funding to Regina Coeli. The organisation has submitted a request for additional funding.
“The Housing Executive is awaiting further information from Regina Coeli to provide confirmation of the agreed budget.
“However, we were disappointed to receive a letter from the Chairman of Regina Coeli advising us that his Management Committee has decided to close the hostel on August 31, 2016.
“We remain committed to ensuring these vulnerable clients are supported and services are properly resourced.
“We will work with Regina Coeli and other providers to ensure clients are able to access a satisfactory service.”
The Legion of Mary had not replied to our queries by this morning.