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Residents at Northern Ireland’s only homeless hostel for women have occupancy licence ‘terminated’


Workers protesting at the Regina Coeli House in west Belfast on Wednesday. (Pic: Unite)

Workers protesting at the Regina Coeli House in west Belfast on Wednesday. (Pic: Unite)

Workers protesting at the Regina Coeli House in west Belfast on Wednesday. (Pic: Unite)

Residents at Northern Ireland’s only all-women homeless accommodation facility have received a letter by management terminating their “licence to occupy any room”, according to Unite the Union.

Regina Coeli House, a west Belfast hostel which opened in 1935, was due to be closed at the end of February.

However, last week workers started a protest outside the building and also staged a 24-7 work-in occupation of the facility.

Employees at the facility were suspended based on alleged "serious breaches of the safety and security” of the hostel’s residents.

It came after Members of Unite the Union working at Regina Coeli House also claimed that residents of the female-only hostel were told they must leave in taxis provided to “alternative and uncertain mixed accommodation which may not be appropriate to their needs”.

In the latest development on Wednesday, Unite the Union posted an image of a letter claiming to be from the management at Regina Coeli House and issued to the residents requesting they “vacate the above accommodation”.

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“You must ensure that all your belongings and personal possessions are also removed,” the letter continued.

“Your licence is being terminated as the Management Committee can no longer provide the services for which they have been contracted by Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Regina Coeli has no option but to terminate your licence agreement.”

A petition requesting that the facility is kept open has received more than 10,000 signatures, while a solidarity camp has been established at the nearby Glen Road roundabout.

Those joining the protest over the last nine days included politicians from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and People Before Profit.

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

Last week the management committee of Regina Coeli House said the facility was being closed as a result of a “professional assessment relating to remedial works that left us no other option”.

“We have engaged fully with staff and stakeholders to achieve an orderly closure ensuring that the needs of residents are being addressed. This includes ongoing liaison with Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the conduct of a statutory redundancy process,” they added.

Unite says the number of residents at the facility – which provides services and accommodation for those suffering homelessness, addiction, mental health and domestic abuse – has been “rapidly run-down” during the pandemic.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock reiterated the union’s support for the campaign to keep the residence open.

“The behaviour of management at this Legion of Mary owned facility has been unacceptable,” he said.

“Not only have they completely failed to engage with Unite who represent the workforce, but they have suspended their employees, food deliveries have ceased and now they have threatened to evict the residents.

“Unite demands that the suspension of our members is immediately lifted by management.

“We reiterate our call for the Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey, representatives of the NI Housing Executive and the Legion of Mary to meet with us and agree a way forward to ensure the retention of this vital facility as well as the increased funding needed to expand access to this much needed service.”

In a statement the Housing Executive said: “In November, we were made aware that the Regina Coeli facility in West Belfast is due to close by Spring 2022.

“Our immediate priority was to secure accommodation for the existing residents of Regina Coeli, based on their circumstances and their support needs. Only a very small number now remain at the facility.

“The provision of specific support services and accommodation for women experiencing homelessness is a critical priority for us. We want to offer reassurance that we are proactively exploring ways in which the service offered by Regina Coeli can be provided going forward.”

In a statement on Wednesday evening, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: “The decision to close Regina Coeli House was taken by its Board of Trustees, who as the employing authority, are also responsible for the terms and conditions of the staff it employs.

“Departmental officials met with Paul Maskey MP and representatives of Unite and expressed Minister Hargey’s concerns about the Trustees decision, and emphasised that the Department would consider proposals provided to it by Legion of Mary. None have been provided to this point.”

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