Focus Ireland Youth Housing Project Evaluation Shows the Service is “Changing & Saving Lives”
Charity highlights project success is due to partnership with Tusla & Limerick City and County Council
Focus Ireland published an independent evaluation of its youth housing project in Limerick today which outlines how the service has changed the lives of vulnerable young people who were homeless or at risk, and the approach should be rolled out nationwide.
The evaluation of the Limerick Youth Housing (LYH) – which is available to young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – was launched by Focus Ireland’s Limerick Manager Ger Spillane in Limerick City Hall. The innovative project is a collaboration between Focus Ireland, Tusla and Limerick City and County Council, with the aim of providing homes for vulnerable young people along with vital support to help them sustain their tenancies as they make the transition into adulthood. Fifty-four young people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness availed of the service since May 2013, and 85% of these had achieved ‘housing stability’ by the time they left the service.
In addition to providing housing, Focus Ireland staff work with the young people to help them develop a range of key skills that most people in stable home situations may take for granted. These include budgeting, banking, access to education and building self-confidence.
Our work is based on strong, trusting relationships and meetings between staff from Limerick City and County Council, Focus Ireland, Tusla and others, with a focus on service delivery.
Fourteen of the 54 young people who availed of the service since its inception in May 2013 took part in a detailed evaluation of the project. The independent evaluation was carried out by Eilis Lawlor and Niamh Bowen from the UK based ‘Just Economics’.
Focus Ireland said the partnership is based on strong, trusting relationships between local government and other statutory and voluntary agencies, and the success of the Limerick project shows that this model of collaboration needs to adopted in other local authority areas.
The evaluation highlighted that Limerick is one of the most economically disadvantaged cities in Ireland. Recent evidence suggests that its position has declined further relative to other cities since the recession. This environment has in turn increased the difficulties faces by many young people seeking to gain housing, employment/training/education. Focus Ireland Limerick Manager Ger Spillane explained why the service was set up as he said: “Sadly we have seen a lot of young people falling through the cracks over the years in Limerick. Some are in great pain and turn to drugs and drink and this can and has led to tragic events and young people dying. This service is directed towards protecting young people and making sure they have the support and housing at the most vulnerable ages from 18 – 24. The stable housing with key support is helping to not only change lives but to save lives.”
One participant said: “The staff are friendly and they treat you like you are on the same level as them. They don’t judge you. It makes you realise that you can get better and that you are not worth less than anyone else in this world.”
Existing data gathered by the service showed that:
- A majority (85%) had achieved housing stability by the time they had left the service, and about half were managing their own tenancy.
- 46 young people (85%) had engaged in employment, education or training, although we do not know how sustainable this outcome has been over time.
- Almost a quarter of the young people have come from the care system.
Although the study focused on a relatively small sample, when young people were asked to compare their situations before and after entering the service, there were indications of improvements across a range of areas. The young people who engaged with LYH mainly attributed these positive outcomes to their involvement with the service.
- Three young people who had particularly precarious and unstable housing histories felt that the service has ‘saved their lives’.
- 12 of the 14 participants surveyed told researchers they did not have other options at that time and things would otherwise have stayed the same or worsened.
- There were also improvements in health, quality of life and independent living skills.
The evaluation also includes a number of key recommendations including:
- There should be greater emphasis on employment and training would enable young people to successfully exit the service into housing and sustain that exit. There is scope for enhancing this aspect of Limerick Youth Housing, including building relationships with local employers.
- There is a need for targeted mental health support for the young people in the service.
- There is a shortage of affordable, accessible and secure housing, and a need to ensure that there are housing allocations for vulnerable youth across all types of social housing.
The Key Findings from this evaluation in Limerick mirrors the experiences of those who work with vulnerable young people nationwide. Focus Ireland stressed that the partnership approach is a ‘key ingredient of success’, and should be actively encouraged at national level.
Furthermore, greater access to affordable housing for young people is needed across the country, and better quality national data on youth homelessness and care leaver outcomes would be highly beneficial to better understand the phenomenon and enable comparisons in studies such as this.
You can read the full report here