On Monday 12th June, we performed Hostel by Fionnuala Kennedy at the Baby Grand, sponsored by Choice Housing and the Simon Community of Northern Ireland. The play looks at the experience of one young mum living in sheltered accommodation after registering homeless, and highlights the flawed housing system in Northern Ireland alongside some great organisations and individuals working hard to end homelessness in Northern Ireland.
This was a new production of Hostel featuring Diona Doherty, Adele Gribbon and Louise Parker. We were privileged to read the play for residents from Choice Housing and Simon Community as part of our rehearsal process.
Following last night’s performance, there was a panel discussion compered by homelessness activist Gerry Skelton, with Clark Bailie, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive; Charlie Mack, Chief Executive of Extern; Caroline Durham, Support Worker at Simon Community, Fionnuala Kennedy, Macha Productions; Sean Holland, Chief Social Worker for Northern Ireland, Dep. Of Health and Social Services; and Jim Dennison, Chief Executive of Simon Community.
Gerry asked the panel: You wake up in the morning, homelessness is gone: what happened?
Clark Bailie suggested encouraging people to be open to living in other areas than their desired preference, and encouraging rental in the private sector. The play looks at these points: it is difficult and potentially really detrimental to uproot a family from support networks, work, school, and private renting can be costly for people living alone; we have also interviewed families for other projects who have been renting in the private sector and experienced issues with poor landlords, inadequate houses, damp, problems that are disputed and dragged on causing mental and physical health problems. Charlie Mack suggested making use of current housing stock and empty homes, and simply, building more houses. Other suggestions included making homelessness a priority in social work, social policy, health, finance, education, holding politicians accountable for actions (of lack of), actually implementing strategies that have been commissioned, and fighting the case for greater funding for preventing and combatting homelessness.
Acutely aware of the economic and political climate, the notion of homelessness being eradicated seems a long way off. We were honoured to be part of this event with organisations and individuals working to do this.