Nicola Stewart, Family Centre
Q. What year did you join Focus Ireland & what service/department?
A. I started with Focus Ireland in 2012 on the CSV (Community Service Volunteer) Programme in the Open Access Case Management Team. In this service I worked with singles and couples who were experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes. I really enjoyed this experience, I learned so much in the role and worked with some amazing and dedicated colleagues. I’ve worked with Focus Ireland since then in the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop, and in Case Management roles in the Advice and Information Service and Prevention Service.
Q. What does your job normally entail?
A. I’m currently working in the new Focus Ireland Family Centre. My team and I moved here in December 2019. We were previously based in the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop which facilitated singles/couples and families in a fairly small space. The purpose of moving to the new Family Centre is to be able to provide a dedicated service to work with families who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their home.
For the last few months we’ve been getting the Family Centre set up, we opened our food service/ laundry facilities and homework club for families who are accessing emergency accommodation. We are in the process of setting up a childcare facility also. This is on hold for now due to the public health crisis.
We also provide support and advice services to help families move on from homelessness or prevent them from losing their homes in the first place.
A lot of my day is spent supporting my team with casework to help families move on to more stable accommodation or access other essential supports. I support and manage our team in running the day service and I often spend time with the families who come into our service seeking support.
Q. How has your job changed during the public health crisis?
A. When we set up the Family Centre in December 2019, we were providing a drop-in service for food, laundry and casework support. This was to help families in emergency accommodation, many of whom had to leave their accommodation every morning, go out for the day and come back at night time. This has changed since the health crisis began. Families who were in this situation now have 24-hour access accommodation since the country went into lockdown.
We have adapted our service to meet the needs of the families we’re working with. We are now delivering food and basic necessities to families who need it in their accommodation (this may be people who are self-isolating/ cocooning/ not able to get to the shops etc). We’re making sure to pop in activities/ games for the children as it’s very difficult for families, often living in one room at the moment.
We are still providing laundry facilities on-site for families who need it; we are implementing social distancing and all HSE guidance to ensure the families we work with and staff are safe. Some of our staff are working from home and are continuing to provide casework support via phone/email to all families we are working with, and to anyone who contacts us for support. I’m continuously supporting my team with casework, and I’m on the road a fair bit delivering food and essential items to families in emergency accommodation.
Q. What do you miss about your job most during this time?
A. I really miss the interactions with our customers and my colleagues. The building is usually very busy with families coming in for meetings, food and homework club, I miss the fun in the office, there was always a laugh to be found even on the busy days. It’s a very different place now, it’s so quiet. I can’t wait to see everyone again.
When we drop off food packs to families in their accommodation we sometimes get to see them from a distance, maybe get a wave or quick chat to see how they are. It’s lovely still being able to have these interactions and to see they are doing ok.
Q. What’s your favourite Focus Ireland memory or experience?
Ah, I don’t think I can just name one thing here… we had some fantastic occasions when I worked in the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop, like visits from Michael D. Higgins, Richard Gere, Glen Hansard to name a few. And they were there to chat to the people we work with which made it even more special.
I think, overall, the best experience I’ve had is working with a family, getting to know them, trying to empower them and help them through a tough time. It’s amazing seeing how resilient people are. There’s nothing better than when you get a call from them saying they got the keys for their new home. The excitement for the kids about the simple things…having a bedroom, being able to have space for toys again, to have friends over…there’s nothing better.
Q. If you had to give your 18 year old self some advice, what would it be?
A. Be kind…always, always, always be kind. You don’t know what someone has been through, what trauma they’ve experienced or what fear they have about what’s ahead of them. This is particularly relevant to everyone in the current pandemic, to be kind, empathetic and understanding to everyone around you, everyone has their own difficult circumstances to get through. This is a time to look out for others, stay safe and be kind.
Finally, I’d just like to say to all the families we work with who are reading this, we hope to be able to see you all soon, stay safe and take care in the meantime.