By Alice Leahy, Director & Co-Founder, TRUST
One after the other they arrived in the first hour: 22 Men 1 Woman
6 people turned away (1 having excluded himself by his behaviour)
Our Centre too small to accommodate all at that time, some needing at least 30 minutes, all having a hot cup of tea or coffee with fresh brown bread, lost in their thoughts, waiting to have a shower and change of clothes their first in ten days, socks and shoes not removed in that time, feet treated and wounds attended to etc.
People came from squats, open spaces and under bushes all over the City:
Earlsfort Tce., Merrion Square, The Quays, Civic Offices, Dawson Street, Portobello,
Garda Stations, Drumcondra, Dollymount, Ulster Bank, Cook Street, Bray, some not knowing where they slept, two lucky to get a hostel bed for one night, 1 female sofa surfing after one night in Casualty. The universal look of misery and hopelessness, life’s history private to themselves etched in their faces reflecting on a life less ordinary. All reluctant to leave to make way for others. Some were Irish, others from Poland, Romania, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia. Common denominator the label homeless.
Tom who lives in a hostel, attends a psychiatric clinic made his usual visit to sit quietly with a hot cup of coffee listening to Lyric FM.
Josef who is hard of hearing always pleasant and gracious, shaking hands on arrival and leaving, says it is better here than in the place he once called home.
Pat called with his mother. He was put out of a hostel for 4 nights, his shoes soleless, walking around on his sore bare dirt caked skin like a dogs paw. He asked for nothing more than a hot cup of tea in a quiet space. This reminded me of a hand written report I wrote in 1975 to the Programme Manager in the then Eastern Health Board “in all my years nursing I have never seen feet like now. An 80 year old man wearing shoes two sizes too big with holes in the soles”.
Most were unkempt, unshaven, filthy and ashamed to be, apologising for their state – the majority known to us for some time. Joan called for the first time after two months on remand in prison. On release after attending Court, the urge to meet old friends on the day for a drink or share other drugs too much to resist. All pre-release plans if any gone in 5 minutes, at what cost? Some trying to sleep for a short time, others drunk from early morning, the alcohol hand sanitiser taken from hospital or the 70% alcohol detergent available from some Eastern European stores costing less than €5.00, a reminder of those who drank meths and 4 7 11 perfume in the ‘70’s.
We see too often the anger and despair replaced by apathy and resignation to ones plight. Dull, dead eyes have replaced the once bright ones when dreams of a better future existed. Most refuse to speak to journalists or researchers, it’s all too painful.
In a recent report an academic suggested that those meeting the needs of people at the level we do in TRUST over a long period help to maintain people in their homeless state. We too ask that question but not from the comfort of a plush office.
If not moved by the misery we should not be here, if not questioning the number of reports, experts, seminars, during the years of the Celtic Tiger all telling us that homelessness would be solved by 2010. We will never know how unrealistic this pipe dream really cost the tax payer.
At a meeting over 10 years ago discussing homelessness in Dr. Steeven’s Hospital I was told it was inappropriate to discuss the pain, dirt, violence, despair and hope we saw on a daily basis. It was not politically correct! More “productive” to discuss statistics and ticks in boxes – they are just what they are – statistics and ticks. Behind each one is a complex human being where “outcomes” are uncertain.
Seeing people losing all they have, including hope, others where truth has become the first victim of addiction, some whose life from birth has been defined by misery and poverty likely to be seen as a problem for life, never having a chance to reach their full potential. Seeing 3rd generations coming through our door as we did in that hour is not a hopeful indicator.
This was just one hour in TRUST re-opening after one weeks holidays for all to recharge batteries, allow the Centre to breath and attempt to break dependency.
We are well aware of the criminality and violence in our City, very noticeable in the area of homelessness, not least amongst some of the people themselves often due to unreal expectations and demands, linked to a sense of entitlement which makes for difficult relationships, often leading to exclusion from services –statutory and voluntary. This is a small number of people and not everyone should be seen in that light. Labels define us and stick, often making it more convenient to isolate those most in need of help and least likely to be seen as successful. Much of the discussion about rights generally fails to refer to responsibility. Too often this takes place far removed from those who should be included. Many people have been cast aside these days of enormous challenges but this is not an excuse for what we see on a daily basis. Money alone is not the solution.
A few years ago I ticked all the boxes in an expensive grant-aided survey when required to tick no more than 2, an irate phone caller bluntly told me we didn’t fit the template and she cast it aside. Our views on the people who use our service were of no value – they didn’t matter.
We in TRUST (www.trust-ireland.ie) work in a very small Centre in the heart of The Liberties, roughly twice the size of the Oak Room in The Mansion House the residence of the Lord Mayor, two minutes from City Hall, five from Grafton Street and less than ten from Dail Eireann, it does seem as if we are on another planet and likely to remain so.
The work is difficult, hard, dirty, misunderstood, devalued, time consuming, unquantifiable, challenging and especially soul destroying at times, but invaluable when you see people better able to face the day, confidence regained to meet a friend, reconnect with family and address one’s addiction – all this takes time, money energy and commitment.
Politicians, planners and most researchers never see the human misery we see or even what is possible, because its only the human contact (most of us yearn for) over a very long period of time allows one to witness the gradual or sudden deterioration in our fellow human beings and in some, what is possible when one is supported to regain confidence at the most basic level.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. They are the world of the individual person: the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works”.