The Alice Leahy Trust provides showers and clothes for those living on Dublin’s streets

It is the trust that Alice built. In 1975, Tipperary woman Alice Leahy, then a young nurse, believed she would solve Dublin’s rough-sleeper problem within a year. Today she is still running the Alice Leahy Trust.

The trust’s six staff and four nurse volunteers work in a brightly-lit basement under Iveagh Hostel in Dublin’s Liberties, providing showers and clothing for men and women living on the streets: “It is quite shocking that we don’t have public showers in Dublin,” says Leahy.

In her hand is a letter from one of the trust’s success stories, a man helped years ago. Every Christmas he writes, sending €10 and a detailed account of how his life is going. He has health problems, but is in good form.

“We never ask for money. We send out no letters looking for money, and we make sure nobody is using our name with their collection boxes. We’re in the very fortunate position that people are very good to us,” said Leahy.

In a comfortable room three young men sit drinking coffee and picking at mince pies and biscuits from a well-laden table. Looking to be in good health, they are shy. One man heads for a shower, while another prepares to shave.

In a room further back, carefully-folded jackets, shirts and socks are neatly arranged on shelves by two staff who unpack recently-arrived parcels. Besides the clothing there is donated salmon, bread, tea, sugar and fruit. “We haven’t had to buy tea bags in years,” says Leahy.

At the end of the day you have to wonder how much do [the homeless] get at all. The State has offloaded every service

The Alice Leahy Trust receives no State funding. “We did get statutory funding for years. The health board was very different then. They paid my salary in the early days, and they gave us a grant. About 12 years ago we felt we didn’t need a grant. Our independence is crucial,” she said, adding that they protect their clients’ stories.

Only possession
A former trustee once told her: “Alice, people’s personal information might be their only possession.”

People can be reluctant to speak of the past. One well-educated, now deceased homeless man once complained that he would “need a solicitor with me” if he went to apply for accommodation from the authorities because he was asked so many questions.

Every donation is receipted, says Leahy, who questions the role now played by larger homeless agencies. “They now are providing the housing, and that should never have been allowed, or they should never have allowed themselves to do that. Now they are almost like developers.”

Leahy has found this Christmas particularly difficult. “It could be because I am around so long. But every time you turn on the radio it’s someone who’s paid to do an ad to bring in money. We get a lot of calls from people questioning that.

“Look, we wouldn’t comment on another agency. People are asking questions. Why isn’t the problem solved if all that money is . . . we’re now talking about millions. People have to have big fundraising activities. They have to advertise, and that costs money. And at the end of the day you have to wonder how much do [the homeless] get at all. The State has offloaded every service. Serious questions have to be asked.”