Noel Sherry and Siobhan Donohoe
Since I started writing for the Kilkenny People and The Kilkenny Reporter I’ve been told by almost every second person that I should meet Noel Sherry. The reason being - he is one of life’s good guys, for all he has done for the homeless here in Kilkenny.
Noel Sherry is the General Manager of the Good Shephard Centre in Kilkenny. Originally from the Falls Road in Belfast he moved to Kilkenny in 2000 to run the Kilkenny’s homeless centre. He has a Degree in Philosophy, H Dip Business and MSc Child Protection and Welfare. He worked in Dublin as a regional manager for a national housing and homeless agency for many years before coming to Kilkenny. He is married to Kathleen who he describes as a saint and he is the proud father to his two daughters Caitlin and Aoife and son Adam.
Homelessness is sometimes associated with social dysfunction, but the recession has showed us that it can knock on anyone’s door. An awful lot of descent and hard working families have being displaced from their homes through the economic downturn for reasons that could fall upon any of us and the Good Shepherd Centre has being there to assist them.
Here’s a glimpse into Noel’s world and his work.
Noel please describe your typical day before, at and after work -
Morning – First stop feed and clean out the ponies. I am usually in work at 8am. Early on I try to get the admin done. I hate it and once it’s out of the way the rest of your day is free.
Afternoon – I like to hold meetings, or go look at the purchase of houses. In my job a lot happens managing finance, tendering for refurbishment works, dealing with service users with complex needs. It is really busy…
Evening – I might need to do some fundraising work. I like to leave work by 8pm and get back to the children and the ponies.
A typical day is not predicable. It is often shaped by what emergency comes in the door.
What the Good Shepherd Centre and who do you help?
It was formed in 1989. The initial focus was to give men emergency accommodation. However in 2017 the service had to diversify to emergency housing for men and families. In 2018 we started to include women as we had a rough sleeping crisis with women here in Kilkenny last summer. With the support of Kilkenny County Council we eradicated the need to rough sleeping quickly. It is important to be responsive. We have a positive partnership model.
What’s the maximum period of time a resident has stayed in the Centre?
That has improved, it was 3 ½ years, now it is 6-12 months. The optimum period to reach for is no longer than 6 months for a resident in the hostel. We will get there in time.
Why has it improved here if we are having a homeless crisis nationwide?
We are lucky to be in the position to provide 52 properties to house the homeless in 2018, 80 properties in 2019 and hopefully 80 again in 2020. This is all done through the support of Kilkenny County Council.
We are now in a position to be more responsive in how we react to homelessness through the provision of housing and with the support of the councils Pathfinder service.
Is it true that Kilkenny is probably the only county in Ireland that is reducing homelessness?
Yes. Hotel room use has gone from 15 hotel rooms in 2017 to just 2/3 in 2019. In 2017 there was 319 homeless referrals and as of 31st May 2019 we have had 97 to date. If that trends continues we will see a drastic reduction in 2019.
How is the reduction in numbers happening?
Namely 3 reasons:
- The Good Shepherd has opened a women’s centre.
- Kilkenny County Council has opened up a Women and Single Mother Service on John’s Bridge.
- The Good Shepherd and the Council have provided families that were in hotels with homes.
- We also secured homes for people that were on notice to quit on 20 occasions, so that people could stay in their homes. This is a key preventative strategy.
How many houses have you bought?
In the region of 150 houses and we have also purchased sites for another 70 houses to go into construction with Kilkenny County Council between now and 2021.
So what is our Council doing that’s different to help reduce the homeless numbers in Kilkenny?
Kilkenny County Council believe to address the complex needs associated with Homelessness that a one fit all approach doesn’t work. An individually tailored response is adopted. The council have enacted a multi- disciplinary approach, known as Kilkenny Homeless Action Team. The group is supported by KCC, HSE, Department of Social Protection and community services specialising in areas of homelessness, mental health and addiction and training and employment.
In simple terms, the house by itself is not the answer in itself.
So where is the money coming from?
The Capital Assistance Scheme from Central Government supports the purchase and construction of properties.
The HSE and KCC also pay grant aid towards are running costs. Invariably our own rental income and fundraising are key to supporting the running costs of our services
Has the pot run dry yet?
No, we will continue to access opportunities to construct and purchase properties. Our strategy Home for Life aims to provide 240 homes 2019 to 2021. The housing we will provide will be for the elderly, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness and families.
So you have started to fundraise?
Yes, we are in a strange position, yes we have money to buy properties, the costs to the structure required are greater than the rental income at the moment. So we need to fundraise a little more until our property portfolio grows to match these costs, which we anticipate to be 2020. It is important to the Good Shepherd that we also use our skills to grow our own income and reduce our dependency on the tax payer. People exiting homelessness require supports to sustain their home.
Fundraising acquired by the Good Shepherd in 2019 and 2020 will be used to pay for support services for women and families. 2019 is a challenging year.
So what is the share / ratio of local state funding to fundraising?
In 2017 for every €3 spent we had to raise €1 of it through our own income (rent and fundraising). In 2018 the ratio has increased to 50:50. This is not because there has been a reduction. This is because we have grown. It’s more a positive story than a negative one.
Do all the houses that you are buying have to be in the city?
No we are looking around the county too. It is important not to centralise homeless services as it draws people away from their own communities and support structures. We are currently acquiring property around the main towns and villages in County Kilkenny as well as the city.
How many hours a week do you work?
Under the Working Time Act I work a 39 hour week!! (he laughs)
Is there any downtime for Noel Sherry?
I work with my children. Down time enough!!!! When they leave I will have plenty of down time. I enjoy being busy and being active as a parent.
Outside a typical day who is the most important person in your life and why?
My wife, because she has stuck with me every step of the way, when the kids all leave home, she’ll be the one still there listening to me!
What is your favourite TV Show?
The Crown! Such a paradox being from the Falls Road!
What's on your bucket list?
That we substantially reduce the size of the hostel by 2023, and that no one has to spend any longer than 6 months in homelessness. That there are no one rough sleeps in Kilkenny.
On a more personal note, my wife and I get to live on a small island for three months just before we retire!
What's your favourite thing to do when you come to Kilkenny?
I love the cinema, eating out and of course I love the festival aspect of the city. It’s a great place to live and have a family in.
What can the people of Kilkenny do to help The Good Shepherd Centre? What supplies do you need?
Befrienders…. Moving out of homelessness into housing is very lonely and isolating. Volunteers to support our tenants would be fantastic.
Mostly we need towels, sheets, crockery etc.
Clothes. Sometimes people arrive with the clothes on their backs, it can take days to sort out their social so they could be in the same clothes for days at the time.
Please support Noel Sherry and his great work for The Good Shepherd Centre. Their next fundraiser is on 21st June in the James Stephens Army Barrack for a BBQ, auction and music from local bands. Tickets are €25 and available from the Centre.
In October they will have another World Homeless Day Concert. Details will be released soon. It will be a special night with their own choir and the Rafter Family.