Alice Leahy’s Address televised on RTE 1 Television during the Leaders Speech at the Labour National Conference.
Text of speech delivered during the Leaders Address
-Labour National Conference, City Hall, Cork
Saturday, 29 September, 2001
In the last 3 weeks, two people we know – ANN a 21 year old mother of 2 children – died in a doorway; and IAN a man in his 30’s drowned in the Dodder.
SANDRA and MARK’s much longed-for baby died – only a few months old. They slept rough in the Phoenix Park for years before we got them B&B accommodation. Their grief is barely imaginable.
It has become fashionable to suggest that the image of homelessness has changed. People who are employed in poorly paid jobs are unable to get private rented accommodation, are ineligible for local authority housing, and book into hostels – taking up beds traditionally used for homeless people.
The image has changed but the reality is even worse.
One night last week, 39 men could not find accommodation through the freefone service – what about the others with no access to phones.
Mothers and children are often given a cheque to go and find accommodation themselves.
Many of the people we meet walk around on blistered, bleeding and ulcerated feet. Afraid their shoes will be robbed, they leave them on 24 hours. These same people continue to be referred from agency to agency.
Envelopes of addictive medication and a bed under a tree is generally all that’s on offer for many of the outsiders – people we used to call homeless, who have now been completely marginalized.
But more money is being spent than ever before in the field of poverty.
More highly paid but inexperienced people are deployed to work in this sector as if poverty is some kind of industry to be exploited.
More researchers and consultants produce more and more reports to be discussed in centres of luxury far-removed from the smell and pain of poverty.
And more and more workers on the ground are ignored.
Our views are rarely if ever sought, and if sought, as I know from personal experience, only a token reference is made. That is why I welcome this opportunity as someone from a non political organisation to speak to you this evening and indeed would speak to any political party as it is important that we face up to the even further marginalisation of the most vulnerable in Irish society.
People who become homeless continue to be treated like fodder for researchers – often trading information for help.
In November 2000, an expensive hostels-on-line service, based on the London model, was launched. It was redundant before it even got off the ground because there were never beds available. And how the people I work with were going to access a computer beggars belief!
Hostels, are pressured to accept people likely to be successful – people who fit in and do not have “problems” (problems that in most cases led to many becoming homeless in the first place!) because grants are dependent on performance indicators.
Performance Indicators, which are defined by people who do not understand or know the people they are talking about.
Emergency accommodation is generally for one night – if available, and after giving their life story, they are referred on to more of the same.
Bed & Breakfast type accommodation is totally unsuitable for long-term accommodation. Facilities often come nowhere near the standards laid down. People who complain are promptly asked to leave because there are many more queuing to get in.
We need resources definitely to solve the growing crisis of homelessness, not least to free up hostel accommodation.
But if we are to really tackle this problem we also need a management revolution in the public service. Management that stifles criticism, does not seek the views of the people in the front line, is doomed to continue to waste resources and not help to end the alienation and exclusion of the people I meet everyday.