Kayleigh from Youth Work Tipperary highlights homelessness at the Kickham Plaza, Tipperary Town
In the late 1960s, a group of volunteers in Tipperary Town recognised that young people living in rural communities were at risk of being left behind.
They weren’t getting the same opportunities as their urban sisters and brothers. This was due to a number of reasons; isolation from possibilities, lower access to education and training, economic factors or family situations.
Each young person had their own challenges.
This group of volunteers came together and set out to create a solution – youth work, a relatively new idea at the time.
Youth work meant that young people were at the centre of their own lives, they were supported to make decisions for themselves and gradually programmes and services were put into place to continue to work with young people.
Growing up in Bansha, I became part of this progression with the establishment of Bansha Youth Club, which was affiliated to the Cashel & Emly Youth Service, the precursor to Youth Work Ireland Tipperary.
Into Bansha at the time came a young curate, Fr Jimmy Egan (now PP Knockavilla/ Donaskeigh), who assisted me in establishing the club and with the support and guidance of the then director, Sr Mairead Ryan, the club grew and developed.
It was my first hands-on experience of volunteering and was a truly powerful and enriching experience. I can say without qualification that they were some of the best times in my life and helped me develop into the person that I am today.
I learned so much from my time with the club, the regional and the national service and from the different courses, training programmes and club exchanges.
The young people who came through the club over the years were not just members but were also friends and remain so to this day.
In fact some of my best friends came from other clubs with the Perry family from Sologhead being chief amongst them.
The friendship and camaraderie that we enjoyed was made possible because of the idea of bringing young people together in a spirit of fun, learning and shared experiences.
Today, Youth Work Tipperary is a youth service which is forward thinking, creative and passionate about exploring opportunities and facing challenges with young people.
Placed at the centre of everything that they do, they respond to local youths’ needs and link in with national and International practices to ensure that they continue to build on their history and experience and grow to be a leader in youth service provision.
They have a voluntary board of directors made of eleven local people who guide Youth Work Ireland Tipperary in their work in Tipperary and east Limerick.
The board of directors place an emphasis on ensuring that they are open, transparent and follow the highest standards of governance.
As well as using many external programmes within their work, Youth Work Ireland Tipperary places a strong emphasis on developing and progressing their own programmes, which are specifically developed to meet the needs of young people.
An interesting aspect of the work of Youth Work Tipperary is the issue of homelessness.
Many people may think that homelessness is not an issue in the town of Tipperary, however a report from Youth Employment Initiative coordinator, Moira Merrigan, tells a different story.
Moira runs a Youth Employment project in Tipperary Town, supporting young people aged 18 to 24 to find training, education and employment and helping them to remove barriers preventing them from engaging in opportunities. “I deal with the issue of homelessness and support young people in desperate need of housing every day.
That may seem surprising to many people, considering I work with such a specific cohort in a small town. I myself would not have imagined that it would become such an integral part of my work but sadly the truth is that many young people today lack a secure, safe and stable place to live.
“Unfortunately, there have been a few of my project participants who have had to endure periods of sleeping rough over the past few years.
"This is something which once was considered a problem solely confined to cities, but sadly it is not. This is happening in rural locations and small towns across the country. It is a situation which robs people of their sense of pride, safety and control, something which no one should have to face.”
Moira says that what is more frequent however is young people who are experiencing “hidden homelessness”. These are individuals who have no place to call home, and are often “couch surfing”, staying with family and friends as they have nowhere permanent to go.
“It can be incredibly challenging to work or attend a course if you have nowhere consistent to stay. If you are sleeping on a couch, you cannot go to sleep until everyone else in the household does. You have nowhere to properly store belongings or clothes and nowhere to study. Applying for Housing Assistance can be daunting without someone to give them practical support.”
At the end of last year, Moira became part of the Housing Policy Committee in order to help to give these individuals a voice where those who make the key decisions can hear it.
Some positive steps have been made to address the situation - the addition of Homelessness Prevention Officers, a HAP Place Finder and the Housing First programme have been welcome additions to the Housing Department, she says.
“Through these challenges, what astounds me is the resilience and positivity shown by these young people.
"They are committed to making things better for themselves, they show such gratitude for those who help them when they are in need and they are motivated and open to opportunities. The ‘hidden homeless’ deserve a voice and should not remain unaccounted for.”
What is clear from Moira’s report is that homelessness can happen to anyone.
The words of a young 19-year-old who has experienced homelessness are very telling; “I never thought that I would have had to sleep out all night but things at home just fell apart. It was in the middle of lockdown so I really had nowhere to go. I thought there’d be a hostel or somewhere like that but there wasn’t.
“Thankfully I got help quickly from the Homelessness Prevention Officer and found somewhere to live. But it was a really scary time.”