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Belvedere Union outreach to homeless

Belvedere Social Services (BSS), set up by Belvedere Union with the assistance of Peter McVerry SJ, is now in its twelfth year. It provides sheltered accommodation and individual care to homeless men, aged between 17 and 21, helping them make the transition to independent living through the provision of after-care support. [Photo: Ivan Hammond, director; Tanya Blyth, manager; Brendan O’Leary, treasurer/director]

The project, managed by Tanya Blyth, uses a key-worker system to provide personalised attention that focuses on the young men’s aspirations and goals, as well as helping address blocks to their growth and development. Through building relationships and setting goals, the young men are helped to take responsibility for their lives, and make the transition to independent living and meaningful employment. Although now receiving some funding from the HSE, BSS acknowledges the huge support and funding that they receive from Belvedere College’s annual Christmas sleep-out.

Brief history of Belvedere Social Services

On the 6th January 1991 Belvedere College’s sixth year students held a seminar on social involvement in the College which was attended by some past pupils as well as present students.

One of the visiting speakers was Fr Peter Mc Verry SJ who gave an impressive account of the problems associated with housing the homeless. During a coffee break, in the presence of the then Head Master Fr Bruce Bradley SJ, a proposition was put to him that The Belvedere College Union should establish a project for homeless boys and hence Belvedere Social Services was born.

A subcommittee consisting of Brian Merry, the late Richard Dennis and the Ivan Hammond got together, raised £210,000 and opened a home eight months later on Botanic Road, Dublin 1.

Initially, they had a staff of 5 looking after 6 boys, all being funded by the proceeds of the College sixth year Christmas sleep-out, the Annual Old Belvedere Dance and various private donations. However, after two years this was found impossible to sustain without adequate additional funding and the use of a greater number of trained social workers. We therefore took the decision to close the house down temporally.

They next reorganised the Board, negotiated with the Eastern Health Board for proper funding and re opened the house with a full time Manager and a staff of seven qualified workers. Most of the funding is provided by The Eastern Health board but generous contributions of £30,000 are obtained each year from the Belvedere Students sleep-out and the Annual Dance to fill the gap between running costs and contributions.

The lads in the House are, on average, 18 years of age and apart from providing a homely atmosphere they are continually monitored and helped with their problems, which can be often quite over-burdening for them but not in the long run impossible to solve.

At the same time they are encourage to go back to school, learn a trade, learn to work or do courses all of which train them towards independent living after staying approximately two years with us.

For those who have completed their “stay” with BSS, there is an after care service which allows them to keep in touch with the staff who in turn get the opportunity to continue to monitor their progress. They are always welcome back for a meal,chat etc., and advice is always available.

However, failure in the House is not exactly unknown but experience has shown that with the majority “to try and try again” usually wins in the long run. Most of the ex-lads are now living independently with relatively improved lives but sadly there are a few who did not make it- may they rest in peace.

Ivan Hammond.
Chairman, Belvedere Social Services.