On Thursday 7th December, Homeless Connect marked our 40th anniversary with a special event at Crumlin Road Gaol. Joined by many of our members, colleagues, organisations and local MLAs, the event celebrated the incredible work of the homelessness sector in supporting so many people across Northern Ireland over the last 40 years.
Hosted by Claire McCollum, the event aimed to provide an insight into what Homeless Connect has achieved throughout its forty years and how its continued work has helped to create a community of support, by being the voice of the sector.
Maria Jennings, Homeless Connect Chairperson
The first speaker of the afternoon was Homeless Connect’s recently appointed chairperson, Maria Jennings CBE, who took to the stage to talk about the proud history of Homeless Connect. “From the very beginning, organisations working in the homelessness sector here have been at the centre of the work of this organization,” she said.
Ms Jennings continued: “It was the visionary leadership of staff from the Simon Community and Extern that led to its foundation in 1983. Ever since the organisation came into being, serving the needs and interests of members has been central to the mission of Homeless Connect. Simply put, Homeless Connect exists to serve its members. Homeless Connect is blessed to have as members some of the best organisations you will find in this society. Day in, day out, member organisations of Homeless Connect are putting in the hard yards helping to prevent homelessness and supporting people who find themselves with no place to call home.”
This was followed by a panel discussion session with Roger Courtney, co-founder; Geraldine McConaghy, development officer/director; Deirdre Cananvan, board member 2011-2020; Simon Geddis, first FareShare manager in 2010; Liam Milligan, chairperson and board member 2015-2023; and Nicola McCrudden, CEO of Homeless Connect.
The panel members discussed the many highs and lows of their years working within the homelessness sector and how Homeless Connect has continued to represent the views of organisations and work closely with people with lived experience of homelessness. Specifically, the panel spoke about the negative impact the political dyisfunction in Northern Ireland has had on the rising rate of homelessness throughout the country and the need for improved resources and funding to help turn the tide on homelessness.
Nicole Lappin, Housing Executive Chairperson
The final speaker of the afternoon was Nicole Lappin, Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, who spoke to the room about the work being carried out by the Housing Executive regarding homelessness. In her remarks, Ms Lappin congratulated Homeless Connect on marking its 40th anniversary and acknowledged the invaluable work of the homelessness sector. She referred to the importance of collaboration with the Housing Executive in seeking to turn the tide on rising levels of homelessness and noted the valuable role that Homeless Connect plays in facilitating partnership working.
Ms Lappin further stressed the importance of listening to the voices of people with lived experience of homelessness in the development of policy and practice and referred to the provision of the Goodwill grant which provides funding for Christmas related activities, gifts and vouchers to households experiencing homelessness across NI. She also mentioned a new Youth Homelessness Action Plan which is in the process of being developed by the Housing Executive currently and the hopes the Housing Executive have for preventing and reducing homelessness amongst young people.
To bring the event to a close, Stephen Rafferty sang his song, ‘Concrete Christmas,’ which aims to raise awareness around homelessness and loneliness at Christmas time. Guests were also treated on arrival to the exceptionally talented Dominican College Fortwilliam Traditional Group and School Band, whilst also viewing the ‘Still Somebody – Voices for Change’ exhibition of photos taken by individuals with lived experience of homelessness from Westcourt Camera Club and designed to increase awareness and encourage discussion around the reality of homelessness across Belfast
We are grateful to all our member organisations, staff, volunteers and funders who have helped us throughout our forty years of representing the homelessness sector in Northern Ireland. We look forward to continuing to grow our relationships as we continue to ‘Turn the Tide’ on homelessness.