By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor
You literally could have heard a pin drop during some of the key moments of the play Hostel which was delivered with a powerful punch at the The Baby Grand in the Grand Opera House in Belfast last night.
Hostel, written by playwright Fionnuala Kennedy and produced by Macha Productions, deals with a time in Fionnuala’s life when she became homeless and along with her child was forced to live in sheltered accommodation. Its raw intimacy is evident as the excellent cast of actors Diana Doherty, Louise Parker and Adele Gribbon tell the story of young women learning how to cope without a place they can truly call home.
I first seen this play performed in Derry when I was working for Unison’s Community and Voluntary branch. It has lost none of its power to shock and unsettle an audience.
Choice Housing and the Simon Community have to be congratulated for their support for this special performance of Hostel.
Following the ending of the play, a panel comprising Clark Bailie, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive; Charlie Mack, Chief Executive, Extern; Caroline Durham, Simon Community; Fionnuala Kennedy; Sean Holland, Chief Social Work Officer, Department of Health and Jim Dennison, Chief Executive, Simon Community, discussed the implications of homelessness and steps needed to combat it.
Event compere Gerry Skelton hosted the discussion in which members of the audience, including people directly affected by homelessness, also took part.
Sean Holland said that the pressures of homelessness were even greater now whilst Charlie Mack commented that the solution was fairly simple. “We just need to build more social housing,” he said.
On behalf of VIEW, I said that efforts to combat homelessness would prove very difficult given the climate of austerity and savage welfare cuts.
Fionnuala’s story is not unique. Today in Northern Ireland, thousands of people are affected by homelessness.
The programme, produced for the event, stated: “Northern Ireland has the highest comparative level of homelessness in the UK and in the last year alone, more than 18,600 households presented themselves as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The ongoing shortage of housing supply coupled with uncertainty around future investment to tackle homelessness creates fear and apprehension for the most vulnerable in our society.”
All of us have a role to play in challenging social desperation. We all deserve to have our own front door key.