Extern will today announce that people who are homeless, or facing homelessness, in the Mid-Ulster area, will now be able to access an enhanced range of life-changing supports, as the result of the well-established MUST Hostel in Cookstown, Co.Tyrone, joining the organisation.

The announcement is being made at the launch of Extern’s new Transforming Lives, Transforming Society 2019-2022 Strategy in the Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown this morning.

Currently Extern supports over 20,000 people each year across 27 counties. Operating for 40 years, it employs over 600 staff and provides life-changing supports to people who are living with a range of challenges, including homelessness, children at risk of entry into care or the justice system, mental health issues, people living with the impact of suicide, people with an offending background, minority communities and problematic drug and alcohol use.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Charlie Mack, CEO of Extern, said: “A key aim of our new strategy is to transform the lives of 25,000 of society’s most vulnerable people in Ireland and beyond, and that includes people living in rural areas and outside the main areas of population.

“MUST Hostel joining Extern is a key part of that, meaning that more people across Mid-Ulster will now be able to access a wealth of expertise, innovation and high quality mental health and homelessness services. MUST is a vibrant and much-valued and respected community resource in the Mid-Ulster area, and I am delighted that in having the strengths of MUST and its experienced team join Extern, we will be able to strengthen the focus we have on changing lives for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

By bringing Extern and MUST’s experience together, Extern hopes to create a strengthened community-based support service right across the Mid-Ulster council area, which will help prevent more people from becoming homeless, particularly for people living with complex needs.

Lyndsey O’Neill, manager of the MUST Hostel, added: “MUST has been part of life in Mid-Ulster since 1986. This exciting move will see the experienced team in MUST being able to tap into the increased resources of Extern and also strengthen the programmes of support we offer.

“Importantly, becoming part of Extern also means that we can use MUST as a base for bringing some of Extern’s award-wining services to Mid-Ulster to benefit the hundreds of people who need our support here. These include the Extern Homes and Extern Works projects, both of which offer people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, access to the skills and opportunities they need to be able to move on from homelessness and create a brighter future for themselves.”

MUST is Extern’s fourth hostel. Operating since 1986, the MUST hostel has 20 beds and provides accommodation for over 100 people each year. Its floating support SAIL Project (Supporting Adults for Independent Living) also supports another 150 people to maintain their tenancies each year and to live independently.

At today’s launch, Extern’s CEO will also be making a call for more resources for, and awareness of, mental health provision in rural areas. Charlie Mack, said: “All too often we are seeing people arrive in our Belfast or Derry/Londonderry services in crisis, who have fallen through the cracks as a result of coming from rural areas and who do not know of, or who are unable to access the kinds of supports they need.  The lack of clarification on the continuance of welfare reform mitigations here is also adding to the pressures felt by disadvantaged families. We see at first hand in every day the difference made in people’s lives by being able to access locally-based, person-centred services, which meet people at their point of need, and we urgently need government to invest in such services for those people in living in rural areas across Northern Ireland.”

Also speaking at the launch will be representatives from the Department for Communities and Department of Health on the issue of homelessness, and also from the Western Trust on the Towards Zero Suicide Strategy.

Extern’s strategy launch comes at the end of a memorable year for the charity, which saw it welcome Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to its Roscor youth Village in Co. Fermanagh in February. It also recently received the 2019 International Community Corrections Award at the Correctional Excellence Awards in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for its Bail Supervision Scheme funded by the Department for Children and Youth Affairs, which helps transform the lives of young people facing custody in Ireland. The charities Assistant Director, Mal Byrne, was also recently named Northern Ireland’s Social Worker of the Year, and its Cherry Orchard Janus Project became the fourth Extern project to receive the Investors in Children Award.