Address By Alice Leahy December 18th 2003
It is over 30 years since I started working with people who are labelled homeless, the landscape of the city has changed but the human condition hasn’t. May I suggest that the human condition hasn’t changed since the scene of Bethlehem we remember at this time of year.
We are sandwiched between St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral. We work in the basement of the Iveagh Hostel and are grateful to the Iveagh Trust who only charge us a nominal rent. Daily we meet now over 40 men and women who sleep rough and deal with people as they present themselves to us – all outsiders in a city of plenty. Many come from outside the city and many from outside the jurisdiction. Some people we meet we have grown older with, meeting them first in the early 70’s – daily we meet new people. People present with all kinds of problems some just for a shower or bath etc.
Patrick, Geraldine and Paula my colleagues with me today can give you an information booklet which describes our work and the people we meet everyday.
Monthly we give out more than 400 outfits of clothes all donated which shows the enormous generosity of people – people often travel long distances to deliver them to us.
“You help us face the day and even sit in a café” John says regularly; comments echoed by many others.
A few Christmas’s ago we were taken aback when we noticed Tony with his head in his hands sobbing in front of the Christmas candle, he explained between the sighs that the candle reminded him of Christmas as a child at home. The same year Mary didn’t appear as regularly as before, just rushing in and out to return to talk to and dance with the toy dogs in Clearys windows, her intake of drink determining the dance. Lets hope this Christmas if she so decides she will not be moved on as she could be seen as diminishing the landscape. She was also hurt that she couldn’t get into the womens prison hammering the door “sure they know me – why won’t they let me in”.
Anna called to Trust first on coming to Dublin a few years ago. I ashamedly thought she couldn’t be homeless – she was so healthy looking, she called intermittently and then disappeared for months.
When she returned she was wearing the same clothes including the tweed coat which fell apart in rags when touched. Her skin was black and she smelt of smoke – that of burning wood. The dye from her often sodden shoes was like footsies on her feet and straw had caked in her hair. Last week she described her home in a haybarn, the warmth and comfort of her partner who was gentle and kind, her adult children in third level education outside this jurisdiction and her tireless efforts to get her birthcert with unnamed parents – her ongoing search for her roots. She also described the pressure on her to move to housing but her need to stay away from people whose paths crossed with hers in the world of homelessness. She left us after a bath, fresh clothes, tea and a chat to return to what she called home – a haybarn 30 miles from the inner city – how different is it from the family we remember at this time of year and like that family her life continues day in day out during the rest of the year.
Joe will ensure he is not with us for Christmas – as he hopes and plans to spend his Christmas in jail having spent the last 17 years but one inside. He will ask the chaplin to use the phone and wish us Happy Christmas. He is 37 yrs and first started drinking in prison at an early age.
We hope that the people we meet through out the year will leave us a little better but no worse off than when we first met.
We can all get distracted from the message of Christmas and the humanity of people who are broken and outsiders in our world in our rush to get collection boxes out.
Begging letters and expensive ads have become the norm; while people begging — not all homeless people beg and not all beggars are homeless — are seen as a problem while yet we appear too easily to accept the proliferation of authorised beggars on behalf of various agencies without question.
Our recently published book “With Trust in Place” Writing from the Outside was inspired by our concern that the outsider is becoming more and not less marginalised in Irish society. For that book we asked forty well known and some not so well known people including Tony who uses our service, and Archdeacon Gordon Linney who is well known in this community write on the theme of the Outsider.
All in Trust thank all who make our work possible and who daily re-affirm our belief in the goodness of people and to all who use our service who make our lives the richer.
Peaceful Christmas from all in Trust.
Director & Co-Founder,