There is no point in talking about “solutions” unless we make society more tolerant, more inclusive and more sensitive to the outsider

Alice Leahy accepting Honorary Doctorate in UCD

Dr Garret Fitgerald, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland presenting an Honorary Doctorate of Laws to Alice Leahy.

ALICE LEAHY, Director and Co-Founder of TRUST accepting an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from UCD today (Friday, 11 June, 2004) described herself as an outsider who has fought efforts to prevent her speaking out since she started working with people who are homeless on streets of Dublin over 30 years ago.

“The emphasis today is on making the figures look good and hence band aid type solutions are invented which do not solve the problem but only move people on. Most of the people we meet everyday often find themselves homeless on the streets because they cannot fit in. They are outsiders and unless we try to make society more inclusive, more tolerant and more welcoming of people who are different it is absurd to talk about “solving” the problem of people sleeping rough on the streets of our cities,” ALICE LEAHY said.

A nurse by profession ALICE LEAHY described the failure of society as rooted in a false view of health care in which little or no value was placed on the social needs of people, especially those who are marginalised. Describing this as one of the key dimensions of the approach adopted by TRUST ALICE LEAHY said it is also one of the most difficult to promote as it cannot be quantified in the terms of the performance indicators used by the managers of the homeless, health and social services.

“We all know the benefit of human contact when we are lonely for any length of time. But it may seem remarkable that absolutely no value is placed on human contact with those who have problems in their lives and find themselves broken on our streets. Similarly frontline hands on work seems equally valueless because it does not lend itself to measurement by the performance indicators used by those running our health and social services. This must change or life will continue to become more lonely and isolated for those on the margins of society,” she said.

Our failure as a society to come to grips with the root causes of street homelessness and social exclusion is partly due to the success of the managers of the homeless, health and social services in effectively suppressing the voices of those in the frontline she said. Quoting Mary Robinson – “Each time you speak out with a critical voice you pay a price” – ALICE LEAHY said that should not be the case in our homeless, health and social services:

“The emphasis today is on getting everyone to conform and no one is allowed to speak out publicly without putting their funding at risk. We will continue to resist attempts to
get us to fit into a bureaucracy that is attempting in a self defeating way to tackle the problem of social exclusion. In other words, the voices of the voiceless are simply not being heard by those responsible for managing the homeless, health and social services,” ALICE LEAHY said.

Welcoming the degree as recognition that would make the job of raising awareness a little easier ALICE LEAHY said she accepted it on behalf of her colleagues in TRUST and other front line care workers who must pick up the pieces everyday for society’s failure to make life bearable for the outsiders in our midst – the most vulnerable who cannot fit in.

“Despite the difficulties we confront everyday in helping the people we meet it is something of a tragedy that despite the stress and pressure that it sometimes brings it is nothing compared to that which we endure in coping with insensitive bureaucracy in the homeless, social and health services in our so called progressive society,” she said.

ALICE LEAHY went on: “But we will continue to share our experience gained in what some people like to call our frontline caring role with anyone who will listen until we change and reform those services – a challenge I recognise is enormous. However, if we do not take it up nothing will ever change and we will continue to see ineffective and self defeating bureaucracies set up to produce strategy after strategy as nothing very much changes on the ground”.

One of the core issues ALICE LEAHY said is the complete inability of the bureaucratic mindset to place any value on human contact.

“We know that for many of the people we meet everyday we may be their only social contact. We do not ask anyone to fill in forms and provide any information if they do not want to. We know well there are hundreds of people in frontline caring roles in local and state agencies capable of making a difference but the ruthless requirements of the bureaucracy for information and questionnaires often do not allow them to get beyond that and help the people they are meant to serve” she said.

TRUST is a non denominational, non party political body that provides health and social services for people who become homeless. TRUST is also committed to sharing the insights gained in its everyday work through education and advocacy. More information about TRUST: