An Irish Connection

In 2011, I received an email from Ireland. It said, in part:

Hello, my name is Kerry Brennan. I am writing from Cork Simon Community, a homelessness and housing charity in Ireland, to enquire as to whether it might be possible to meet with someone in your organization to discuss your services and share some ideas on housing provision. I have done research on the Housing First model, and am currently working on a strategy for my organization to bring our Housing into line with that model.

Soon after that email, Kerry came to Burlington to visit Pathways Vermont. We bonded over our shared value of ending homelessness, the evidence-based practice of Housing First, and the similarities between my small green state of Vermont and her county Cork in Ireland.

Kerry returned to Ireland and had good success implementing the Housing First model at Cork Simon, moving about 100 people into housing with an 87% retention rate. We kept in touch and had a running jest about how I would one day visit Cork City and we would go to an Irish pub and share a pint of Guinness.

Seven years later, in 2018, the Irish government — in a bold commitment to end homelessness —embraced Housing First as practice and policy and created a National Director of Housing First who published the “National Implementation Plan for Housing First 2018-2021.” The plan commits to the rollout of Housing First all across Ireland. And with the plan, came resources for implementation.

Cork Simon and Kerry’s team were applying for funding to expand on their Housing First successes and Kerry reached out to me again. She wanted to include Pathways Vermont in their proposal and asked if Pathways Vermont would consider partnering with Cork Simon to provide advisory and monitoring support to ensure their fidelity to the Pathways’ Housing First model.

I, of course, said we would be more than happy to do whatever would be helpful.

Then I heard from Kerry again; Cork Simon had won funding to provide 40 tenancies over the next 3 years, for the 40 longest-term homeless service users in Cork City and Cork County.

Two weeks ago, myself and two other Pathways’ staff (Lindsay and Clara) flew to Ireland to meet with Cork Simon.

I had never been to Ireland before. Despite it’s stunning ocean views, castles, left hand sided driving, and lush accents, I was surprised at how similar Vermont and Ireland felt to me. Maybe it was the friendly people, the cow speckled hills, or propensity of local beers. Yes, it was definitely that! But it was also, and more importantly, the collection of people I had privilege of meeting in the Cork Simon community that were dedicated to Housing First. We had the same values and spoke the same language: housing is a basic human right, and everyone deserves to have a home.

One story we heard from two Cork Simon Housing First team members (Aidan and Ian) was about a time they spent seven hours with a woman they were working with who was having a hard time, rolling on the ground in traffic, racing around town, filling a shopping cart full of items in the grocery store and attempting to leave without paying… And Aidan and Ian being with her through all of it, trying to hold a safe space for and with her, negotiating with community members and the police… Anyone who has worked on a Housing First team knows a version of this story. And would recognize the tone in Aidan and Ian’s voices; that combination of love, concern, non-judgement, and immense respect for a person’s particular strengths in a challenging situation.

I spent three very fast-paced days in Cork: Speaking at a conference, attending an all day strategic planning session with Cork Simon leadership, meeting amazing Cork Simon Housing First team members, and Clara and Lindsay visited a shelter and housing projects. And of course there was that pub. And toasting pints of Guinness.

I feel a deep honor and privilege to have crossed paths with Kerry this lifetime. I admire her commitment and tenacity to ending homelessness and her belief in Housing First as the best road home.

I am looking forward to our continued partnership and to one day toasting the end of homelessness in our communities.

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