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Expanded services for homeless women to launch following 11-week protest outside Belfast’s only hostel for women

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Workers protesting at the Regina Coeli House in west Belfast. Pic: Unite

Workers protesting at the Regina Coeli House in west Belfast. Pic: Unite

Workers protesting at the Regina Coeli House in west Belfast. Pic: Unite

Expanded services for homeless women – including a women’s only hostel in Belfast – are to be opened in May, according to the Unite trade union.

The news follows an 11-week protest by workers at the gates of Regina Coeli House, Belfast’s only homeless hostel for women, which took place after its staff were told in January that their jobs would be ending the following month.

The 21-bed facility is owned by the Legion of Mary but is funded by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

On Wednesday, Unite announced it has received assurances from the Department for Communities and the NI Housing Executive that the facility’s future is now secure, and the union is now working to ensure that the dismissed workers are employed by the new service.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a tremendous result. I’m so proud of the stand of these women workers took against this closure. In their care and compassion for the women who rely on this service and the principled stand that they took, they are an inspiration to all.

“Their determination and eleven week occupation forced a wider policy commitment by the Department for Communities.

“While we celebrate this success, our fight is not over. This commitment must now translate into the re-employment of these workers at the new service.”

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Speaking for the union at the event, Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock, congratulated the workers on their stand: “I’m very proud that, faced with the prospect of this vital facility being closed down, the these women workers, members of my union, took the brave decision to stand their ground.

“For 11 weeks they stood firm. Despite threats, eviction notices and even being dismissed two days before their statutory redundancy, they kept the doors open. In so doing they forced the politicians to act. The result is this commitment to an enhanced and expanded service for homeless women including a women’s only hostel. The successful fight of these women workers will stand in the history of this city’.

Regina Coeli House worker, Emma McCann, also spoke. She said: “Our position has always been that the Legion of Mary should do the right thing and hand this building over, that the management committee should step back and let this happen – shamefully they didn’t do this.

“That management committee acted in a brutal way, threatening workers with legal action and sacking workers two days before redundancy payments were due to kick in – we are glad they are no longer in charge of this vital lifesaving service.

“We would have liked the political establishment and the Housing Executive to be brave enough to run this service directly but we recognise that we have won a significant victory by ensuring that the service will not only continue, albeit at a different venue, but will be expanded.”

People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson described those protesting as “heroes”.

"It has been a privilege to stand with the women who have occupied the Regina Coeli Hostel. They refused to accept the loss of a vital service for women,” she said.

"It is a great shame that the management committee of the Regina Coeli Hostel forced the closure of a much needed service. It is shameful, too, that the Minister for Communities did not do more to turn up and save this service.”

In a statement, the Housing Executive said: “As soon as we were advised in November 2021 of the decision by trustees to close the Regina Coeli House facility by Spring 2022, our immediate focus was securing suitable accommodation and support for existing residents.

“In response to the closure of Regina Coeli House, we are actively developing support services for women experiencing homelessness.

“A new service for chronically homelessness women is progressing and other support services are currently under development that will further improve the support provision for women in the Belfast area.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities added: “The Minister has always been clear that the priority was to ensure support for the women and to secure these services.

“The loss of the service at Regina Coeli House has been disappointing but the Department is confident that the necessary steps are being taken by the Housing Executive, with all urgency, to ensure the delivery of this new and enhanced future service provision.

"Although due process is still underway, as with any selection exercise, we are hopeful that this service will become operational in May.”


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