Uncertain future of facility for homeless debated at special meeting
Belfast City Council has voiced its opposition to the planned closure of the only female-only homeless accommodation facility in Northern Ireland.
Regina Coeli Women's Hostel in the west of the city was first opened in 1935 and provides a refuge for vulnerable and homeless females.
Owned by the Legion of Mary, the 21-bed hostel is funded by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Last November, reports emerged that the hostel would close by Spring, leaving staff and residents uncertain of their future.
Last week, workers occupied the facility in a 24/7 work-in protest after being told their jobs would end in February. Staff involved in the protest were subsequently suspended, with the trade union Unite saying its members received letters from the management suspending for alleged "serious breaches of the safety and security" of residents.
A special council meeting was called to order on Monday in order to debate a motion calling for stakeholders to meet to discuss the hostel’s planned closure and how to secure its future.
The motion was tabled by SDLP councillor Paul McCusker and seconded by People Before Profit’s Fiona Ferguson. Sinn Fein also tabled an amendment, highlighting the need for the Legion of Mary to step in and help find a solution to the closure, which was accepted by Mr McCusker.
Members were given a presentation by two workers at Regina Coeli, who highlighted the importance of ensuring the continuation of the service. Emma McCann has been a support worker at the hostel for the past five years.
"My job, and that of my colleagues, in supporting these women is one we are committed to," she said.
"To see women grow stronger and to rebuild their confidence to go back into society after the horrors they have suffered is truly inspiring. The hostel provides a calm and safe environment for the women we support and this is vital as they recover from the traumas they have experienced before coming to Regina Coeli. Trauma such as domestic abuse, addiction, mental health and complex needs.
"At a time when we are seeing a sharp rise in domestic abuse and femicide, where the majority of victims will know their abusers, we should be looking to increase the number of women's hostels and invest in the services they provide – not shut them down."
Mr McCusker said staff at the hostel go "above and beyond" in order to support the women at the facility and there is a rising number of women presenting as homeless, highlighting the need for such facilities.
"We need the council to say 'we can't allow this service to close'... we can't sit by and see homeless women not getting the support they need," he said.
The amended motion was passed by councillors, without a vote.