On Tuesday 18 July, we had the opportunity to visit Extern’s Ormeau Centre on Waring Street in Belfast.
We were greeted by John Muldoon, the housing and harm reduction co-ordinator at the centre. John has worked in the Ormeau Centre for eight years. In our conversation with him, it was quickly apparent that we were talking to someone with a deep knowledge and understanding of homelessness and addiction issues. This expertise was coupled with compassion for those the centre seeks to support.
The Ormeau Centre has 28 beds across three floors and supports single men and women experiencing homelessness. The site also has specialist provision for injecting drug users. A non-judgmental approach is stressed by the centre, as it seeks to provide care and support for a group of people who are often stigmatised and misunderstood by wider society.
The week we visited the centre, tragically the death of several individuals through overdoses had once again hit the headlines. In our conversation with John, it was apparent that the use of multiple substances at the same time is creating additional risks and is more challenging for medical staff to respond to.
He outlined to us – and this would fit with our wider experience – that those he worked with have almost always experienced considerable trauma. For many of these individuals, substances are used in response to these traumatic experiences, some of which go right back to childhood and can include abuse and violence.
The staff at the Ormeau Centre are trained in the use of Naloxone and have specialist knowledge in harm reduction approaches to addiction. Naloxone is a medication administered either through injection or nasally which can reverse an opioid overdose. Staff at the Ormeau Centre literally save lives through the use of this medication.
The Ormeau Centre, like many other homelessness service providers right across this society, is facing challenges as a result of the lack of an uplift to the Supporting People budget. This is one of the consequences arising from the failure to pass a budget by the NI Executive and is without question impacting on the provision of services for people experiencing homelessness here.
One of our main takeaways from our visit was the importance of refraining from making snap judgments about individuals experiencing addiction. A compassionate response, focused on respecting the dignity and worth of each and every person, is what we need. The staff at the Ormeau Centre are doing their utmost to deliver such a response.
We are grateful to Extern for having us along to the centre. If you want to find out more about the Ormeau Centre, do check out their website and give Extern a follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
This is the latest in Mark’s blog series on his visits to frontline services throughout Northern Ireland.