Having worked with homeless people since 1973, I am still haunted by the faces of the many men and women I have met, who were fearful to talk about the abuse they suffered in the institutions of the State, either directly or indirectly.
Some, too, remembered the compassion of those who helped them. In my time, I have seen the dismantling of institutions to be replaced by Care in the Community; this we can now describe as a mirage. Filling this gap has resulted in voluntary and statutory bodies working together with the required oversight.
Mick Clifford, in his column, ‘Silence on failure to protect vulnerable’ ( Irish Examiner, Saturday, September 18), about recent events in the area of homelessness, raises a number of issues we should be concerned about.
Over the years, I have come across many people who were afraid to access accommodation, because they remembered abuse suffered within four walls, be it the family home or one of many institutions.
The Alice Leahy Trust’s views on homelessness are based on our daily work over nearly 50 years and were presented to the Oireachtas joint committee on housing, local government, and heritage on January 29 and can be viewed on our website, www.aliceleahytrust.ie. Some of our public representatives, and even people working in the field of homelessness, have difficulty understanding or accepting the complexity of homelessness.
Over the years, expert groups, reports, and conferences costing millions have mushroomed, yet it is left to journalists to ask the important questions and it is so important that they do. For instance, why are people afraid to speak out? Some of us know the answer: No promotion, lack of courage, isolation, fear they won’t be believed, and group think. Surely it is a small price to pay if an injustice is clear to see; you should remember that that person could be you. It is easy for us to complain about injustices abroad, while ignoring those closer to home — this should not be the case, whatever one’s background.
Some issues seem to be worthy of debate, others not. It has become far too easy to look at statistics, money, bricks and mortar and ignore the fears and vulnerabilities of others, the humanity behind the statistics. Not everyone has access to power, especially not people who are homeless — the majority of them don’t vote. Public representatives have a responsibility to address the issues raised by Michael Clifford and not remain silent on matters of importance to us all, especially to vulnerable human beings, of whom there are many.
Director of Services Alice Leahy Trust