A new sensory room is proving to be a major hit with the children of homeless families in Dublin.
Staff at the Salvation Army’s Clonard Road family hub in Crumlin were forced to close a youngsters’ playroom when Covid hit – but the space has now been transformed into a state-of-the-art ‘chill room’.
It was made possible through the ‘RTE Does Comic Relief’ fund, which last year generated €5.8million for hundreds of charities, community and voluntary groups across Ireland.
The Salvation Army received just over €2,100 in grant aid – but sourced all the equipment rather than pay the estimated €10,000 to have it professionally kitted out.
“It was a playroom but when Covid arrived, we had to close it,” said assistant support worker Samantha Swann, from Lucan.
“My colleague Amanda Smyth and her staff partner thought it would be much more useful as a sensory room, rather than lots of kids piling in at the same time.
“It would have cost €10,000 to have it fully fitted out so instead, we looked up the items we wanted and got it priced, we did all the work ourselves and it was much cheaper.”
Now the room is proving to be a valuable sanctuary for children on the autism spectrum – but can be used by any youngsters housed in the 25-room Clonard Road hub, which provides short-term accommodation for homeless families.
Staff bought bean bags, tepees, fibre optic lights, a ball pit, busy boards, bubble tubes, lava pads and a hug ball, used to comfort children.
“We have a lot of parents in who have children on the spectrum, we have had kids come in and their parents sometimes look exhausted, their children might not sleep well so this is a place where they can go to put the lights on, sit on a bean bag in a relaxing space, rather than the noise of the playroom it once was,” said Samantha.
“Young people who are not on the spectrum can also use it. We bought certain things that would benefit those on the spectrum as well as those who are not.
“One family has a little girl with autism who loves going into the room, it helps her calm down, her mum has seen a big difference in how she behaves.”
The Salvation Army operates a booking system where families can use the room in private for 30 minutes.
Staff at the Crumlin hub take in homeless families referred to them by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) and once there, try to rehouse them.
“Some arrive needing help getting onto the housing list, to get them ready for HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) or we can send them to a different service to help them, for example if they are single mothers or people in addiction,” said Samantha.
“Depending on the family, people can spend a couple of weeks or months here, it’s all done on a case-by-case basis.”
The Salvation Army is a worldwide, community-based church, providing services to support the most vulnerable in society.
In Ireland, it is one of the biggest providers of homelessness services. The Homelessness Services Unit operates six services across Dublin – a mix of single adult and family hubs.
It provides a range of supports for people’s wellbeing in order to get beyond the reasons for their homelessness.