YMCA is seeing a record number of people sleeping on the streets, the NGO’s CEO has told Times of Malta following an overwhelming reaction from the public in support of a woman who has been struggling with rooflessness for two years.

Over the past nine months, YMCA social workers have met 58 people who are roofless – meaning they are without a shelter altogether – at a drop-in centre that opened in Ħamrun last June.

In the previous three years – between 2020 and 2022 – YMCA cared for a total of 107 clients who were roofless.

Video: Times of Malta

It remains unclear exactly how many people sleep outside, as not all are aware of the available services or are keen on seeking support.

One of the YMCA’s clients at the Ħamrun centre is Ramona Vassallo, who last week opened up about how she dreads sunset, knowing she will have to spend the night outdoors.

After years of drug abuse and periods in jail, Ramona, now aged 52, is unable to find a shelter that would also accept her dog Bucky.

During the day, however, she religiously drops by the YMCA centre in Ħamrun. The centre is not a shelter but a place – the first of its kind – where roofless people can leave their possessions in a locker, wash their clothes, have a snack and open up to social workers.

Ramona, Bucky no longer roofless following overwhelming support

Following Ramona’s interview, YMCA and Times of Malta have been overwhelmed with requests to support her and Bucky.

YMCA CEO Anthony Camilleri said Ramona was no longer roofless. Following her interview, there were several offers of accommodation at private residences or a hotel, job offers, donations of clothes, food for herself and Bucky, and of veterinary services.

“She has also been offered hairdressing, dentistry and beauty services. These services will give Ramona back the dignity that homelessness took from her,” Camilleri said.

“Following the overwhelming reaction to her interview from the community, the public and business owners who felt the need to help out, Ramona can – for the first time in her life – make her own decisions.

“In the coming days, YMCA will sit down with Ramona and together make concrete plans for her future.”

YMCA already has a programme in place for people like Ramona, called the Doris Cusens Fund – Growing Independence. Through it, YMCA continues the philanthropic work of one of its volunteers: since 2021, it has supported 84 people with a total of €33,310 donations.

These donations are spent on urgent needs of clients – including babies and toddlers – such as on school supplies, education services, transportation, clothing, medicines and fees for personal documents.

Rooflessness, homelessness on the rise

Several people who like Ramona are roofless cannot apply for facilities such as an identity card, a bus card, a bank account, a mortgage, social benefits or housing because to do so one needs a permanent address.

And if they manage to find a place in a temporary shelter, they could end up roofless once they turn 60, because technically they should then be able to be housed in a home for the elderly. But the waiting lists for such homes are long and they have to sleep outdoors in the meantime.

“In just nine months we have had 58 roofless clients: this includes people who are on a waiting list for a shelter, are aged over 60, have mental health issues, or have dealt with – or are currently dealing with – drug addictions.

“Rooflessness and homelessness are, most often, not the result of something brought about by the person themselves. People could be fleeing domestic violence, suddenly be made redundant, fall ill or separated from their spouse,” Camilleri said, noting that homelessness is once again on the increase.

Excluding a spike in 2019 and 2020, when referred cases of homelessness to YMCA shot to 886 and 617 – an increase possibly brought about by COVID and the opening of another shelter – referrals are again on the increase. 

In 2023, YMCA received 512 referrals compared to 367 in 2022. Of these, 228 people could be accommodated at its three shelters, which are partly funded by the government.

The remaining people could make use of YMCA’s services, including the Ħamrun drop-in centre, which depend totally on donations.

One can support YMCA with their time or money. One can donate via Revolut (BIC: REVOLT21; IBAN: LT 6132 5001 9883 319 222); SMS (to donate €4.66 send a blank message to 5061 8088 and to donate €11.65 send a blank message to 5061 9212); or by calling 5170 2068 for a donation of €15, 5180 2007 for a donation of €25 or 5190 2073 for a donation of €50. One can also donate via Mobile Pay on 7955 0065. Log onto https://ymcamalta.org/ for more information on other ways to donate.

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