Conor Roe, Project Leader for the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop, stands in front of the charity building.

Focus Ireland: “The pandemic shone a spotlight on the homelessness crisis”

23 July 2021

When Eve and her family became homeless two years ago, she could never have imagined the impact the pandemic would have on those living in emergency accommodation, or how Focus Ireland, a charity supported by Barclays, would transform daily life for homeless families like hers.

Life had already dealt Eve a difficult hand when the company she worked for closed down in early 2019. Eve had previously lost her husband to cancer and was raising her three young children alone: 10-year-old Sophie, seven-year-old Brian and Laura, aged six.

The sudden loss of her job brought Eve’s world tumbling down. With no salary coming in, she could no longer afford the rent on their home, and the family was forced to move out with nowhere else to go.

Like many people who suddenly become homeless, Eve had no idea where to turn next. Looking for help, she and her family headed to the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop in Temple Bar, Dublin, the day they became homeless – a decision that would transform their future. The charity found her emergency accommodation and referred her to the Family Centre, where Eve was assigned a caseworker called Luke.

Having a caseworker to work on your behalf is an important ‘next step’ in finding a permanent home, as Eve would later discover. But, in the meantime, Luke helped Eve to secure childcare so that she could return to work, and he even organised swimming lessons for the children – a welcome return to normality during a traumatic period for the family. 

A year like no other

Focus Ireland is a charity and housing association that works with people across Ireland who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes, focusing on families, young people and children with complex needs.

Help provided includes therapy and support for children living in emergency accommodation; aftercare services for young people leaving state care at 18; help to secure short and long-term supported housing; and a service supporting people back into education, training, and ultimately employment.

Conor stands in front of the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop kitchen

Conor Roe, Project Leader for the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop.

Building strong relationships and trust with our customers is at the heart of what we do.

Conor Roe

Project Leader for the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop

“Our service provision is extensive and ever-evolving,” says Conor Roe, Project Leader for the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop where people in need, like Eve and her family, are provided with a hot nutritious meal and invaluable advice and information.

“We try to lessen the trauma of homelessness while people are living in emergency accommodation, and we also work to move people into permanent homes as quickly as possible.”

The charity’s workload was already weighty before COVID-19. But the pandemic’s effect was huge. Demand for some of Focus Ireland’s services soared by 50%. Job losses and economic uncertainty left more people unable to meet their rent or mortgage payments, while mental health difficulties were exacerbated by increased stress and social isolation. For people living in emergency accommodation, the loss of access to public spaces such as libraries and parks had a huge impact.

The charity responded by immediately adapting its services, offering take-away food and activity packs for families in emergency accommodation from its Coffee Shop and providing appointments with key workers and child play specialists either over the phone or online.

“Building strong relationships and trust with our customers is at the heart of what we do,” says Roe. “That lack of human connection can isolate people who are already experiencing significant trauma and creates further barriers for engagement.”

With so many challenges to surmount, Focus Ireland welcomed the support available from Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package. The donation, which aims to help those who have been hardest hit by the social and economic crisis caused by COVID-19, allowed Focus Ireland to continue its work throughout the pandemic, and to focus on homeless families.

According to the charity, once a family has been assigned a caseworker, they are four times more likely to be able to secure housing. Barclays’ funding has enabled the equivalent of 112 of the country’s most vulnerable families to receive caseworker support and contributed towards the charity providing the equivalent of 82,000 much-needed nutritious meals through their Coffee Shop services.

“Barclays’ generous donation has allowed us to adapt and expand our services throughout COVID-19,” says Roe. “We will continue to work towards our vision that everyone has a right to a place they can call home.”

Conor poses for a photo in the Focus Ireland charity building

Barclays’ support has allowed Focus Ireland to adapt and expand its services through the pandemic, says Roe.

A lack of human connection can isolate people who are already experiencing significant trauma.

Conor Roe

Project Leader for the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop

A new start for Eve and her family

The pandemic also brought a new focus on homelessness that Roe says has been transformative.

“2020 was a year which shone a spotlight on the homelessness crisis with renewed urgency,” he says. “Preventative measures such as rent freezes and a ban on evictions were implemented to great success, and the overall number of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland began to fall.”

The charity played a key role in this reduction, using its expertise to collaborate with statutory bodies and organisations across Ireland. Roe is hopeful that this progress will be maintained in the coming months and years.

Reassuringly, despite the pressures of the pandemic, Eve’s story had a happy ending, too. When the first UK lockdown began in March 2020, her caseworker Luke made sure that Eve received food packs every week. And at the beginning of April 2020, Eve received the call she’d been waiting a year for – with Luke’s help, Focus Ireland had found the family a home.

Now, a year on, Eve and her children are finally living in their own home, where the children have space to play and study safely. While the memories of being homeless are fading, Eve will be forever grateful to the support of Focus Ireland and the Family Centre for leading her family out of homelessness, and towards a safe and optimistic future.

Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package: the story so far

To date, Barclays has supported more than 290 charities around the world delivering vital COVID-19 relief. Read about the positive difference these charity partnerships are making to communities impacted by the pandemic in a newly published COVID-19 Community Aid Package Impact Report.