29-year-old Stephen Lynch, a former soldier who has toured the Lebanon on UN peace-keeping duties, is now trying to make a difference at home. The Athlone native, who now lives in Castlerea, runs the Midlands Affordable Accommodation Facebook group which attempts to source affordable housing for homeless and unemployed people
“I was homeless myself for ten months and was forced to live in emergency accommodation in a B&B in Athlone. I noticed a lot of people were in a similar situation and were asking for help and I decided that I could do something to help,” he said.
The Facebook group had initially been called Athlone Affordable Accommodation but as the numbers of members increased, Stephen decided it was time to reach out to a wider audience.
“The page now has over 4,200 members and we’ve helped hundreds of people find accommodation in the midlands. I’m trying to set up a charity at the moment and hope to make it an ‘Ireland Affordable Accommodation’ group,” Stephen added.
Right now, it’s all about spreading the word and Stephen has appeared on a number of local radio stations and says he has received very positive feedback. His plan it to work with the homeless and says he hopes to see a hostel set up in the midlands. He has also called on the Government to recognise his Facebook group and the need for further housing and support in the midlands region.
“With the demand at the minute two or three people out of ten are receiving help. The group is always there to help people and I run background checks on those seeking accommodation,” he said.
Stephen says he doesn’t receive any financial help for his efforts but added that as a long-time sufferer of depression, the feel-good factor in helping to house those in need is reward enough.
“Every time I help someone it helps to take some of the stress away,” he said.
It’s not all about housing people either and at the moment the Athlone man is running a fundraiser through the Facebook page for Focus Ireland in the hope of raising much needed funds for the charity.
Looking further ahead and while Stephen said he sees his long-term future involved in working with the homeless, he claims he has been asked to run in the local elections by one party. He declined the offer but hasn’t ruled out running in the future.