Monday 21 October 2019

Supporting women in crisis

Anew, the Swords-based support service for homeless women, marked its anniversary on International Women's Day this year

CEO Marian Barnard and Fiona Barry, Manager of Cherry Blossom Cottage at the 1st Year Anniversary of Anew in Swords Castle. (pics by Fintan Clarke)
CEO Marian Barnard and Fiona Barry, Manager of Cherry Blossom Cottage at the 1st Year Anniversary of Anew in Swords Castle. (pics by Fintan Clarke)
Fingal Gospel Choir at the 1st Year Anniversary of Anew in Swords Castle

Ken Phelan

Based in Swords, women's homelessness agency Anew celebrated its first year in service last week at Swords Castle, with the support of Fingal County Council Chief Executive Paul Reid and Senator Joan Freeman.

The event, held on International Women's Day, invited the local community, agencies involved with the service, and all the women in Anew accommodation along with family and friends, to celebrate what had been a very successful first year.

Speeches came from both Mr Reid and Senator Freeman, while the angelic tones of the Fingal Gospel Choir were heard echoing around the ancient castle.

Anew, a non-profit organisation working in partnership with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) and Tusla, offers temporary accommodation to homeless pregnant women in the Dublin area, many of whom are first-time mothers with no other supports.

An in-house pregnancy support programme also offers ante-natal classes, and prepares women for the birth of their babies by assisting with parenting skills, budgeting, cooking and independent living.

Last January, Anew was awarded 'Women's Support Group of the Year', in recognition of their service towards pregnant women in homelessness situations.

Speaking before the celebrations at Swords Castle, Team Leader Norma Fitzgerald explained how Anew works:

'The organisation was founded just over 30 years ago in response to the Anne Lovett case, to give a safe place for women to come to have their babies. It grew from that year by year, and is made up of a mixture of volunteers and qualified staff. We relied a lot on fundraising and charity in the past, but Tusla came on board about two years ago, so it was a huge thing to get that funding.

'The referrals are from all over Dublin, but we do work a lot with the Fingal area. In the last year, our manager would have done a lot of work with establishing contacts in Fingal County Council, and they've been a huge support. A lot of services for the homeless are a bit chaotic, whereas this concentrates on the mother and baby.

'Every girl is different. A lot of them would have no-one, so it's trying to link them in with other supports so that they can move on. So if they can get a job or return to education, it will help them out of homelessness as well.'

If Anew isn't in a position to offer accommodation, Norma explained, other supports are available to women, including a family worker or an outreach service that will offer help. Because women are presenting as being pregnant, she said, accommodation is 'time sensitive', although there is a quick turnaround and the service will do their very best to help.

Demand for the service is quite high, Norma added, with accommodation housing just four women at any one time. Clients are all over 18 years of age, with the age group last year being from 19 to 36.

Norma said: 'A lot of these women are homeless because they're pregnant. Some of the clients would come in, and they would have been in a house share situation, and because they're pregnant, they can't remain there. It can be for lots and lots of reasons. sometimes it's because of family circumstances, but it's usually due to the pregnancy.

Anew is currently looking for funding in order to expand the service, and is 'always' on the lookout for new volunteers.

The local community, Norma said, has been more than supportive of the service, dropping in nappies, prams and other items to help women who may be going through a very difficult pregnancy.

Reflecting on the year gone by, Norma said, there are a myriad of needs which need to be met, depending on the women's particular circumstances. If the response from the people of Swords is anything to go by, Anew will continue to gain the support it needs to grow and thrive.

Fingal Independent