We are delighted to have been shortlisted for Best Housing Story for the 2020 Chartered Institute of Housing Awards. This award celebrates contributions that have made a real difference to the life of a tenant(s) or a community.

Our housing story features Zemzem Eigal who arrived in Northern Ireland in 2009 as a refugee from Somalia, forced to leave behind her two young children. She moved to Roseville House, our Homeless Family Centre, in 2018 and was soon reunited with her children. With dedicated support from staff at Roseville House, Zemzem finally moved into her own family home in July 2019. Read below Zemzem’s account of the journey that took her from war-torn Somalia to finding peace in North Belfast.

The winner of this award is chosen by public vote, so please support our housing story by clicking here to vote:  http://www.cih.org/ni/awards/vote 


Zemzem Eigal arrived in N Ireland in 2009 as a refugee, having fled her native home in Somalia as a result of the devastating conflict that had torn her country apart. Under personally traumatic circumstances, Zemzem was forced to flee her country and was unable to take her daughter, Maryam 8 years and her son, Jabir 2 years. Zemzem arrived in Roseville House having been granted ‘settled status’. By the time of her referral to Roseville in June 2018, Zemzem had been apart from her children for over 9 years. She had been living in single person, shared facility hostels during her first 2 years in Northern Ireland and when she arrived at Roseville House she was stressed, worried and anxious about the move and transition from those facilities to her own self-contained home, albeit on a temporary basis.

She had been waiting and working tirelessly for this moment for a long time but being reunited with her son and daughter after such a lengthy period was also a frightening experience for her. Over the years she had kept in touch with her children and had begun to rebuild a relationship with them. However, the prospect of family reunification after so long created a lot of anxiety on both sides. Zemzem’s daughter was also 8 months pregnant at the time which added to the stress and concern as not only was Zemzem about to reignite her role as a mother once more, she was also about to become a grandmother.  Zemzem’s anxiety was also compounded by her mental health concerns, which emanated from her years of trauma of having to leave her home country and be forcibly separated from her children. Her physical health had also suffered during this time. 

When Zemzem was reunited with her children at Roseville House, this was initially a joyous occasion, but soon after the pressures of responsibility came to bear on Zemzem. She felt responsible for supporting her 2 children integrate into a city she or they did not know, they had no English, and her daughter was about to give birth. To help Zemzem through this difficult period, her keyworker and Roseville House Team Leader, Stephen Harland, developed a programme of support designed to help Zemzem and her growing family cope with and meet head on the numerous challenges they faced. 

Stephen started with the practical aspects of support. He ensured Zemzem and her family felt secure and comfortable throughout the move to Roseville House. He took Zemzem through the welfare benefits processes ensuring that all applicable benefits were secured. He ensured registration with the GP for all members of the family, particularly as Maryam was due her baby within a matter of weeks and he also began to work with Zemzem on identifying her longer-term housing needs. There was a strong emphasis on the family’s future and on making Belfast their home.

However, Zemzem’s needs went beyond those related to housing, welfare and basic health. Zemzem recognised that the stress and anxiety she was suffering from required additional support and, with the help from Stephen, they began to identify and reach out to the agencies and organisations who could help further. In addition, her son Jabir received support from Stephen in respect of his English language needs by helping him enrol in school and English lessons. Three weeks after arriving in Roseville, Maryam give birth to a daughter which brought great joy for the family and several months later when Maryann was ready, Stephen supported her back into education at Belfast Metropolitan College where she went on to achieve successes in spoken and written English.

After 12 months of support, in July 2019, the family moved out of Roseville House as one family unit, closer than ever, and into a home of their own in North Belfast. Stephen ensured through his support, that the home was sustainable for the family’s longer-term needs, including Zemzem’s deteriorating physical condition. Stephen continues to support the family as their floating support worker, but as the family continues to grow in confidence and settle into their new surroundings, they do not require the same high intense support as before and are moving towards a more fulfilled and independent life in N Ireland. 

Zemzem, Maryam, Jabir and baby Samsam continue to return to Roseville House for social gatherings and to meet up with friends and after 10 years of trauma, they have found peace & happiness and a new beginning. Zemzem commented “Working with Stephen was good, he listened to my problems and helped me fix them. There are good and bad people and when I meet Stephen, I knew he was a person with a good heart, and he has helped me and my children. I now have a home for my family in Belfast thanks to Stephen and his support”