Please sign the petition to support the workers and residents of Regina Coeli in their struggle to save the facility
The staff and women of Regina Coeli began the ‘sit in’ struggle to save the facility on the 12th of January after being given a two weeks’ notice before its closure. The hostel is the only women’s only hostel in the North of Ireland, providing housing and support services for up to 200 women on average per year. The charity is funded by the Legion of Mary, who owns the building. There have been previous attempts to close the accommodation in the past, like in 2016 when a joint effort of workers, residents, and community struggle resulted in its rescue, and a new funding agreement was struck with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Yet since then, the facility has been chronically neglected in terms of funding and state provision and remains still very much under the control of the church – leaving the workers to carry the burden of managing the facility in underfunded, overwhelmed, and inadequate circumstances.
The hostel is emergency accommodation for women in extremely vulnerable circumstances, but beyond that, Regina Coeli also provides essential trauma and addiction services and care to support residents. The attention and care which the Regina Coeli house staff provide their residents goes well beyond the conditions of any state funded emergency accommodation, and this is entirely down to the staffs concern for the women’s interests and wellbeing in their care. This of course should not be the case, just as it should not be the case that Regina Coeli be owned by the Catholic church. Regina Coeli’s function and services like it are an essential means to combatting gender-based violence, to preserving the agency of women in circumstances of crisis and fostering conditions of a humane and caring society. Removing Church influence from all public bodies and institutions, including all education and health services, is something women and feminist organisations have long called for – so it’s time Stormont started to listen and make moves to adhere to what we want, and what is best for the wellbeing of women, non-binary people, and the LGBTQ+ Community.
Most mixed gender emergency shelters in Northern Ireland do not cater for nor even factor in the needs of vulnerable women. As one of the staff from the Regina Coeli house explained, ‘these women are already traumatized when they arrive here, and most are entirely unable to be in the company of men due to their past experiences. To then uproot these women from a space where they feel safe and settled in, and where they are receiving the care, they require…it’s inhumane.’ In a society where essential services, particularly intervention and support services for homeless people, women (cis and trans), and non-binary people, are scarce, chronically underfunded, and undervalued – Regina Coeli’s very presence as a safe space is of immeasurable contribution and value in the fight against gender-based violence and misogyny. When we demand an end to gender based violence, and the government and state officials echo our words and co-opt the language which the feminist movement has used for decades – we, the people, expect those words to be followed with meaningful action.
Bringing charitable organisations like Regina Coeli under democratic state control and providing sufficient funding and support to staff for its management is an example of one of the very concrete ways in which the government can prove their words are not without meaning when they speak of eliminating gender-based violence. Stormont’s inaction to provide appropriate funding and resources for such services thus far is shameful and has had unimaginable detrimental impacts for the women of Northern Ireland who come to require support services in times of unprecedented need. Considering Northern Ireland is the joint most dangerous place in Europe for women (with Romania matching our harrowing toll of femicide) and domestic violence and abuse is at a 15 year high, the audacity of governments inaction to save the Regina Coeli hostel is both telling and harrowing. The main reason women experience homelessness is domestic abuse and violence and so state support for emergency accommodation like Regina Coeli is simply essential.
Ending gender-based violence is a specific and very achievable, necessary demand. It is a question of whether the government along with the rest of society chooses to prioritise this as a matter of great urgency. Emergency action is needed now to combat the shadow pandemic of gender violence, with such actions including an immediate increase of funds for frontline domestic and sexual violence organisations. Additionally, major investment in free, accessible, quality mental health services is crucial. The penny is beginning to drop in people’s minds, or rather hearts, that we need urgent action. That gender-based violence is an ugly and suffocating epidemic that impacts us all, and we don’t have to put up with it. So, we will not give up, and I believe that the acts of solidarity we have witnessed in recent years are telling of the buildup to the watershed moment we are witnessing today. The refusal of women and non-binary people to accept living in fear, to alter our behavior to avoid violence, or to resort to relying upon underfunded and inadequate services out of desperation – is becoming increasingly reflected throughout our society.
In our struggle for the liberation of women, non-gender conforming people, and individuals within the LGBTQ+ community from the epidemic that is gender-based violence, misogyny, and patriarchy – engaging in the struggle for not only protecting services like the Regina Coeli house, but demanding the government be the ones to provide and fund such services in a sufficient capacity is a crucial aspect of the greater struggle.
Please sign the petition to support the workers and residents of Regina Coeli in their struggle to save the facility, lobby your local MLA to pledge their support to the protection of Regina Coeli, and if you can, show your support and solidarity by attending the picket line outside the facility. Strength in numbers.
By: Eva Martin, MA Student and WRDA Volunteer
Bold Women Blogging is a public submission blog. Posts do not necessarily represent the views of WRDA but rather operates as a platform for open discussion to encourage women’s participation in social and political issues. To find out more visit this page.