Protestors packed into the public gallery at Derry City and Strabane District Council’s monthly meeting on Thursday to hear the future of a city centre refuge for some of our most vulnerable citizens is secure until June.
But staff members, service users and trade unionists say they want core funding for Foyle Haven, a vital drop-in centre for street-drinkers and the homeless on John Street, to be allocated on an annual basis.
Last year an emergency package was agreed by umbrella agencies to ensure Foyle Haven, which is run by De Paul Ireland, can continue providing food, warmth, and shelter to homeless people until the end of next month.
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly raised the issue again following a protest outside the Guildhall, organised by the Unison trade union, which expressed fears the facility could close.
He acknowledged “the future of Foyle Haven is a matter of deep concern in the district and further afield” and asked council officers if they could provide an update on funding for the refuge. Officers confirmed De Paul Ireland has written to the council confirming there is “sufficient funding until June 2017”.
The charity warned suggestions the facility may have to close on March 31 were inaccurate although reduced hours have been considered.
Further meetings between the Western Trust and Council to discuss the future of Foyle Haven will take place in April.
Sinn Féin Councillor Elisha McCallion said the issue of funding for the centre is complex and that talks will be required with the Public Health Agency (PHA), WHSCT, PSNI and the council, to find a “collective way forward”.
Independent Darren O’Reilly said the council should unite in “sending solidarity to the workers”.
Councillor Reilly said work is needed to put Foyle Haven on a “long-term footing”.
Speaking outside the Guildhall, Niall McCarroll, of Unison, said the time for stop-gap measures is over.
“The workers have been living month-to-month since the last rescue practice that was put in place by the Mayor [former - Elisha McCallion],” said Mr. McCarroll.
“Mental health, addiction, suicide, all those things, which seem to be more common among working-class communities, are on the increase. We can’t afford the likes of Foyle Haven to be reduced in any capacity and we are here in solidarity with Foyle Haven and all community organisations and workers providing services for people who are vulnerable.”