By Jennifer Hough

Homeless people are presenting with conditions “long disappeared” such as trench foot and impetigo, leg ulcers and gangrene, social justice campaigner Alice Leahy has said.
Ms Leahy, director of independent charity Trust, said she and her team often meet people who are suffering from malnutrition and medical ailments associated with extreme poverty. Many of those who suffer in this way are from eastern Europe, she said.

The service, a social and health facility in Dublin City, is meeting increasing numbers of people who were re-settled in unsuitable accommodation, Ms Leahy said and then find themselves homeless again, an experience that often makes them more isolated.

“People present to us with a wide range of medical problems including bodies that are ravaged by disease and violence.

“Some have pressure sores from sleeping out in all weathers, sometimes in urine soaked clothes for weeks; infected and untreated minor skin conditions and major skin problems such as leg ulcers and gangrene; as well as lice infected heads and scabies.

“They suffer from the effects of isolation, neglect and health problems, exacerbated by what are often described as chaotic lifestyles. Accessing mainstream services — often basic accommodation is a major problem.”

On a daily basis, Trust, operating since 1975, meets up to 60 men and women who sleep rough.

“We meet with people as they present themselves to us — all outsiders in our capital city. Many come from outside the city, some from the remotest parts of rural Ireland, some returning to the land of their birth to be buried in the old sod and many from outside this jurisdiction.”

The Trust co-founder also warned about the loss of human compassion in the face of an increasingly bureaucratic world and the “consequences of racism”, in Ireland.

Speaking yesterday to student nurses in Athlone, Ms Leahy said until those in power are prepared to sit with people in poverty, feel their pain and listen to their frustrations rather than looking at statistics, nothing will change.

“If they cannot do it they should listen to those who can, otherwise the vulnerable patients will continue to suffer and those of us working with them will only be adding to their misery through our silence,” she said.