Northern Ireland

Belfast's only homeless hostel for women 'to close in spring'

Regina Coeli House hostel in west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Regina Coeli House hostel in west Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

BELFAST'S only homeless hostel for women is to close in spring after a survey found the building needed significant repairs.

Staff and residents at Regina Coeli House hostel in west Belfast have been told the facility is to shut within months.

The hostel has been providing temporary accommodation to the homeless in Belfast since 1935.

A recent survey of the building found that it needed substantial repairs costing more than £500,000.

The building is owned by the Legion of Mary - a Catholic voluntary organisation. The hostel is run by a management team staffed by volunteers.

It has around 20 beds but has had to reduce the number of residents it can accommodate due to Covid.

Nine women, many of them vulnerable, are being housed in the facility, which also employs 12 staff.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker outside the Regina Coeli House hostel in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
SDLP councillor Paul McCusker outside the Regina Coeli House hostel in west Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

Martin Dummigan, vice-chairman of the hostel's management team, confirmed that the building will close.

"We have concluded that we have to cease operations," he said.

"We're talking to all stakeholders to ensure the smooth transition of residents.

"The welfare of residents is paramount. There is no question of anyone being left homeless."

Mr Dummigan said even if government funding was offered for repairs, the building would have to close to allow them to take place.

He said there remains a clear need for a women-only hostel.

He added that many volunteers at Regina Coeli House would be willing to be involved in any new women-only facility.

"Belfast needs a women's hostel," he said.

"This needs to be part of the overall strategic thinking."

The hostel had been under threat of closure in 2016 but was saved following a new funding agreement.

SDLP councillor Paul McCusker and Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey are to have separate meetings with the hostel's management today.

Mr McCusker, co-ordinator of homeless support service the People's Kitchen Belfast, said the closure will have a huge impact on homeless women.

"This won’t only affect homeless women who desperately need this service but there will be job losses as a result," he said.

"Many members of staff have dedicated years to support those most vulnerable and to get this news four weeks before Christmas is unacceptable.

"Staff and residents need to be supported and a solution needs to be found to save this important hostel to ensure homeless women can access the support they need."

Mr Maskey said the hostel provides significant help to women who need it.

"I want to make sure that this service is continued because it's too important not to be," he said.

"The Housing Executive do have a duty and responsibility to cater for, in some of these cases, vulnerable women who have had to flee their homes."

A spokesman for the Housing Executive said it is aware "that the Regina Coeli facility in west Belfast is due to close by spring 2022".

"The Housing Executive is currently putting contingency arrangements in place," he said.

"Our immediate priority is to ensure accommodation for the existing residents of Regina Coeli based on their circumstances and their support needs, and we are actively pursuing alternative housing solutions.

"As is normal practice, this will involve engagement with each resident."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities said it had been made aware that the Housing Executive is making arrangements for the hostel's residents.

"The department have asked the Housing Executive to treat this issue with the urgency it demands," he said.