Julie Talbot, Advice & Information, Limerick and Tipperary North. Youth Housing Project, Limerick.
Q. What year did you join Focus Ireland & what service/department?
A. I originally started in Focus Ireland in January 2013 as a Child Support Worker in the National Family Case Management Team based in Dublin. From there I moved to the Limerick team as a Project Worker working with adults with mental health difficulties. After working with adults for a while I missed the work with families and so I was able to change roles to work with families in our Long Term Accommodation. Now I am an Assistant Project Leader for the Mid-West Region. I have responsibilities for the Childers Road Family Initiative, which provides support and emergency accommodation for homeless families. I support the Advice and Information service for Limerick and North Tipperary and I also work with the Youth Housing Project to support young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in the mid-west region.
Q. What does your job normally entail?
A. Every day is different. We currently have 36 families in emergency accommodation with children of all ages. These families come from many different backgrounds and experiences. For some it might be their first experience of homelessness. While others may have experience of being homeless and may even have spent long periods of time in hotels or B&B’s, sharing one room without cooking or laundry facilities. When they come to our service they have a self-contained apartment with a fully functional kitchen, washing machine, separate bedrooms and more space.
The young people in the Youth Housing service all come from varying backgrounds. Some have experience of being in the care of the state, others may be couch surfing or may even have lived in a hostel.
The Advice and Information services is open to anyone. Many of the calls we get are in relation to dealing with landlords or eviction notices. Other calls relate to looking for accommodation. In the current housing climate, it is very difficult to secure rented accommodation. We will make referrals to other services, point people in the right direction or provide direct support to people with form applications or accommodation finding. Or whatever else comes up.
I supervise several staff and support them to provide key working to families and young people. Each customer has a support plan that is reviewed regularly to ensure that they are getting the service they need. We work in partnership with a number of other agencies such as the local councils, Tusla, the HSE and of course other community based services. I attend lots of meetings, which gives us the opportunity to advocate for our customers and to ensure that they have the best move available for their circumstances.
Q. How has your job changed during the public health crisis?
A. We have been so busy with families moving on from the Childers Road Family Initiative into permanent accommodation. Once a family moves out, we then try to accommodate another family to move in as quickly as possible. This has been important in the COVID 19 crisis as it can be very difficult for families to isolate in a hotel room so moving people out of the hotels has been a priority. We are working very closely with the council and the Homeless Action Team to accommodate these families.
In order to allow for social distancing within the office space, staff are working from home every second week. This means that only half of the staff team are in the office at any one time. We are trying to do the bulk of our key working over the phone or through video calls. Most of our meetings with other professionals are now done through video call or conference call. That has been a big adjustment. It’s difficult trying to build relationships with new tenants. The relationship that we have with our tenants is one of the most important parts of our work and building a good relationship over the phone can be a challenge.
There is a big focus on providing as much support as possible to families. With the schools and crèches closed families are confined to their apartments for most of the day. We’ve been trying to source and provide activity packs, toys, games and online resources for families who might be struggling with the restrictions.
Q. What do you miss about your job most during this time?
A. I miss my colleagues the most. We’ve been making the effort to do coffee breaks over video call and organising quiz nights but there’s nothing like having a catch up in person with your work buddies. It is one of the parts of self-care that people underestimate.
Q. What’s your favourite Focus Ireland memory or experience?
A. The Limerick services are renowned for our customer involvement. One of the things we do for our single customers every Christmas is a big lunch where staff and customers come together for a full three course turkey and ham meal with all the trimmings. We do a raffle; we sing Christmas songs and every customer who attends gets a Christmas present. For some it might be the only Christmas present they get.
Q. If you had to give your 18-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
A. I would love to have some profound guidance or inspirational quote, but I am a very practical minded person. So, I think I would say “you’re not going to win the lotto in the next twenty years so save your money!” I guess that’s a simpler way of saying appreciate everything that you have and don’t expect things to be handed to you. Work hard for what you want in life and focus on what is within your control.