Why can’t Dublin, like Paris, have showers for the homeless?
Capital Ideas: No one should have to go to a charity to have a wash, writes Alice Leahy
It’s not always easy to see the connection between health and a hot shower. People come down to the Alice Leahy Trust in the basement of the Iveagh Hostel in Dublin city centre to get cleaned up for important events. Sometimes these are forks in the road that might take them one way or another: court dates, an interview with a social worker, a housing officer, a landlord.
We are not a public shower provider. Our washing facilities are part of a holistic health service for people who use the trust. They have been part of what we do for over 40 years since the day we manhandled a huge cast iron bath into our old premises in a health centre on Lord Edward Street.
Last month we provided 276 showers and clean-ups (a wash and shave at a basin). On average, each day in September, 14 people walked back up the steps cleaner, warmer and a little more ready for whatever they were facing.
We often get phonecalls from public health nurses and housing activists wondering if people they work with can come and use our shower. We have to tell them we are not a public shower facility. Every day we see the need for Dublin to provide municipal showers, not just for people living on the streets.
Public showers and toilets allow people to exist on their own terms. Their absence means Dublin treats its citizens as consumers of ever more expensive things. “Yes you can wash your hands or splash cool water on your face,” the city says. “But first there’s that coffee or burger you have to buy, or those many flights of stairs you have to climb under the gaze of security guards or cameras, if you’re lucky enough to be allowed inside in the first place.”
A decade ago we commissioned architect Niall Ó hÉalaithe of Open Office Architects to come up with ideas for public showers. His clever designs put showers into glowing boxes on unused corners, installed one with a grass roof into a spare hollow of ground beside Dr Steevens’s Hospital. He designed another to be slotted into a site on the grounds of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral “in the tradition of Jonathan Swift’s concern for the poor people of Dublin”. The small unit would slot into a recess in the red brick boundary walls, disturbing neither graves nor trees. There were designs for bus shelter showers which could be coin-operated, self-cleaning and fully automated.