Homelessness is the main reason women are seeking emergency accommodation at the Amber Women’s Refuge according to senior project worker Lisa Morris.
“We have seen a massive increase in the number of young, homeless women accessing our service. People are staying here much longer than they used to as they can’t find any other accommodation. At the moment the majority of our clients are here because of homelessness and not as a result of domestic violence,” she said.
Ms Morris cites family breakdown, relationship breakdown, mental health issues and drug and alcohol addiction as some of the main reasons behind homelessness.
“Often the rent allowance that is provided is not enough to cover the accommodation that is available in the city and for people the only option is shared accommodation, which can be unsuitable when there are children involved.
“Another reason for the big increase in young, homeless women is that often they cannot obtain accommodation because of lack of references,” she added.
The refuge, which has seven units and caters for up to seven women and 23 children is currently full to capacity.
“We are refusing people on a regular basis. When this happens we try and source accommodation in another refuge. The closest ones are in Waterford and Clonmel but again this is often not ideal and can add to people’s difficulties as they are further away from friends and family and other support systems.”
On Christmas Day four women and two children were residents at the refuge. However there was plenty of presents to go around with the people of Kilkenny donating generously. Hotel Kilkenny also prepared and donated Christmas dinner.
“Over Christmas people really were amazing. They donated food, money and toys and presents to us. People are very generous all year round but every year at Christmas they also amaze us when they arrive laden down with gifts and food,” added Ms Morris.
Services and support
The refuge also provides a wide range of services and support for their clients including an aftercare service.
“We provide a non judgemental, non discrimatory service to all our clients. We work out an individual care plan designed to meet the needs of each of our clients.
“It is supposed to be short term emergency accommodation but often in reality it is not. The limit is meant to be between eight and ten weeks but we have had clients who have stayed with us for up to six months. We won’t turn people away until we have worked out suitable, alternative accommodation.
The centre also provides a comprehensive aftercare programme for clients that want to embark on a new life when they leave the refuge.
“In the case of domestic violence we will only provide the aftercare service for people who have moved away from their partner. This often takes eight to ten times before someone leaves an abusive partner.
Amber provides a 24-hour helpline, a counselling service, a schools programme and a support and information service.
It originally started as a counselling service in Loughboy and it soon became clear that there was a need for a women’s refuge and support service in Kilkenny.
This was set up soon after, and was eventually housed in a purpose built facility in November 2001.
The refuge is funded by the HSE. However, as operating costs are quite considerable, Amber also depends on donations and local fundraising events to ensure that a full range of services are always available.
There 24 hour confidential helpline is 1850 424 244