[WATCH] Homeless at five: staying at the YMCA

Kerry Hermitage explains how the homeless seeking shelter at YMCA are made to feel like individuals despite the circumstances they find themselves in

Kerry Hermitage from the YMCA says people seeking shelter at Dar Niki Cassar come from different backgrounds
Kerry Hermitage from the YMCA says people seeking shelter at Dar Niki Cassar come from different backgrounds
The different faces of homelessness

A little girl sits on her mother’s lap as she plays with a toy cash register in the living room of Dar Niki Cassar.

The five-year-old’s summer holidays are soon over and she will start school in just over a week’s time.

The girl smiles as she tells me of an encounter with a talking parrot some days ago, during an outing.

It may look like a scene from the living room of your average family but the mother and daughter are living in a shelter for homeless people.

Dar Niki Cassar is run by the YMCA, an organisation that works with homeless people. It is situated in Msida and can house up to 30 residents, including families.

I refrain from asking the mother how they ended up on the street. It feels intrusive as I wait with other colleagues from the media for Opposition leader Adrian Delia to arrive for a scheduled visit.

The girl looks interested when Delia sits down on the sofa and shows her something on his mobile phone. The words that pass between them are just out of earshot to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Kerry Hermitage from YMCA tells me dignity is a priority for the home. “Residents have their own space… We make sure that people do not stop being individuals because they have become homeless,” she says.

The modest building has a common living room, kitchen and back garden where residents can mingle. But residents also get their own bed and cupboard.

The residence houses women, men, elderly people, families and also foreigners. Homelessness has many faces and is only the visible part of underlying social and economic problems.

 “We have people come here because of domestic abuse; others because their rent has suddenly increased and become unaffordable; we also get stranded foreigners… the reasons for homelessness are varied,” Kerry explains.

Residents at the home are referred there by the Foundation for Social Welfare Services and the moment they set foot inside the shelter, a care plan is agreed between the individual and the social worker.

The shelter offers residents accommodation for a maximum period of 18 months by which time they would have been helped to settle and move out.

Meanwhile, the little girl and her mother are trying to get on with their lives. Their story is one of many others hidden behind the poverty figures that are published every now and then.

It is an uncomfortable story that an affluent country may not even want to hear.