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Aisling D

Please give an outline of your career to date.

I first began working in the homelessness sector in 2013, as a Housing Support Officer with a supported housing charity, Transform Housing & Support in Surrey, England. I then progressed to management in February 2016 taking up post as Supported Housing Deputy Manager of the project, followed by a promotion to Project Manager in August 2016.

I then returned to Northern Ireland and took up post with Simon Community NI as Housing Support Worker in August 2019 and was then promoted to my current role as Housing Solutions Service Manager in July 2021.

What led you to your role with the charity?

I first became interested in homelessness whilst studying Criminology in Liverpool John Moores University. It was here that I first became ‘exposed’ to homelessness, both through my studies and from living in a city for the first time and seeing the reality of homelessness on the streets. The idea of not having anywhere to call home was, and still is, frightening and I guess this is where my interest in the area began.

I had been working in Surrey for a number of years when we decided to return home to Northern Ireland. I knew from my experience working in the homelessness sector in Surrey that I wanted to continue in that field, and I began researching roles in the sector here. I had known about Simon and began looking at the organisation in more depth. I quickly found that the charity's values mirrored my own and this was important to me. Being non judgemental; trust worthy; existing to support clients and meet their needs whilst focusing on ending homelessness are values that are important to me and I knew this was an organisation I wanted to be part of.

One of the most basic needs a person has is to have a home, and this is something I wanted to play a part in. I felt that Simon Community was the organisation to do this with and so I was privileged to gain a position in August 2019.

Describe your role and the work you do?

I am the Service Manager for the Housing Solutions team in Simon Community. I am responsible for the management of Housing Solution Coordinators and Housing Support Workers. I have overall management of the service, which delivers housing solution support services to people who are experiencing homelessness, or those at risk. This role incorporates the management of the Homeless Support Line, delivery of Housing Clinics, management of the Move On Coach service, Tenancy Deposit Scheme, provision of housing related support to Simon Community clients and clients in the community and importantly includes close partnership working with external agencies such as Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and other important stakeholders.

The beauty of the Housing Solutions team is providing access to Simon Community temporary accommodation. The Homeless Support Line receives thousands of calls each year from people who are experiencing or who are at risk of homelessness. The Homeless Support Line is a 24/7 Freephone telephone number and we accept referrals from anyone, including both self-referrals and referrals from other agencies. This means we are the first point of contact in the Simon Community for many people and often we are working with people who are homeless with additional support needs including poor mental health and addiction and who genuinely are at their lowest point. To be able to offer a homeless person a bed and begin to break the cycle of homelessness is what makes this job great!

Once a person is in our temporary accommodation, the Housing Solutions team is responsible for being solution focused and providing housing related support to maximise move on options, whether that be through social housing or the private rental sector, for example. Another string to our bow is the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. This scheme allows us to take away some of the financial barriers preventing people on a low income to access the private rental sector. When a client moves on, the team can support with the move on transition and can implement support from Move On Coaches, who are Simon Community Volunteers. Move On Coaches can link in with the client during the first six months of their tenancy to support the client to settle into their new home and community whilst also supporting tenancy sustainment.

In a nutshell, the main objective is to reduce homelessness through providing temporary accommodation and support centred on maximising move on options to enable clients to move on to permanent accommodation, thus, breaking the cycle of homelessness.

What’s been the best and most challenging aspects of your job?

The best part of my role is being able to provide a bed for someone who is homeless. There really is no better feeling than being able to help someone who is at their lowest point by providing the most basic need. It’s brilliant to be part of a team that can take someone off the streets or out of hidden homelessness, to gain the support they need, improve their quality of life, and give hope for the future.

One of the most challenging aspects is not being able to support someone, for example if we have no free beds. With the rising levels of homelessness we see across NI, our bed spaces are filled very quickly which means we cannot always meet the daily demand but we always try and find those people a solution.

Another challenging aspect I find is the rising cost-of-living. We see people who are homeless trying to push forward, trying to save for the future, but unfortunately their income versus costs of every day life leaves a deficit that makes it nearly impossible for people to get ahead. Accessing the private rental sector is difficult for many with a heavy financial burden in place before even signing for a tenancy. For those that are in a tenancy, there is the ever increasing financial impact of running a home, the cost of heating, electric and food is increasing which is having an impact on people being able to afford to live and having to prioritise food over heat, which, in 2022 is very sad!

I’m proud to say that in response to this, we have been able to support clients as best we can through supporting benefit reassessments, access to food banks, community fridges, and working with other charities to provide help with home heating vouchers and food. It is very humbling to see the support that is available in local communities.

Why is this work important to you?

This work is important to me as I believe that everyone, no matter of their circumstances, deserves a place to call home. Even whilst working in the sector for 9 years, I still cannot begin to imagine the devastation of being homeless and not having anywhere to go. To be part of an organisation that is client centered and focused on ending homelessness is a privilege.

How do you relax outside of work?

I like to spend time with my friends and family. I like spending time with my husband and two girls, we have a one year old and a three year old, so they keep us on our toes! We enjoy going on days out at the weekend often including walks, visits to play parks, the beach and visits to the grandparents. In my spare time I like reading, walking and listening to music. Although spare time has become a thing of the past these last 3 years.

What has been your proudest moment, so far, at Simon?

My proudest moment in terms of career development was being promoted to my current post, Housing Solutions Service Manager. I had been working with Simon Community for less than two years at that point and was delighted that I was given the opportunity to lead a brilliant staff team and a fantastic service!

What advice would you give to people considering a similar career path?

Do it!

Simon Community is not only an excellent employer, but the work that Simon Community does is invaluable and helps so many vulnerable people across Northern Ireland every single day. If you want a meaningful and rewarding career and have a genuine interest in helping people, Simon Community is the perfect organisation to work for!

Interested in starting your journey with Simon Community NI? Click here to view our current opportunities and to apply.