Criticisms of homeless agencies ‘deeply insulting’ – Alice Leahy | Irish Times 18th Novermber

Politicians failing to approach homelessness via ‘basic human issues’, says campaigner

Homeless campaigner Alice Leahy finds criticisms of unofficial homeless agencies “deeply insulting”.

Caring for the roughest of rough sleepers for 42 years, or since four years before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saw his first morning at Dublin’s Rotunda hospital in January 1979, she despairs of the politics at play where homelessness is concerned.

“The politicians haven’t a clue, really,” she said.

She found distressing the words of Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, this week. Ms Gleeson said “ad hoc” unauthorised groups handing out “cups of soup” or tents were hampering agencies trying to accommodate vulnerable homeless people.

It was “deeply insulting”, said Ms Leahy. It was “awful what she said, but I’m not sure she meant to say it like that.”

Located in a basement at the Iveagh Hostel in Dublin’s Liberties, the Alice Leahy Trust is among Ireland’s oldest and most experienced homeless charities. It has never received any State aid and is entirely funded by voluntary subscription.

“People have been very good to us,” she said. It has also meant statutory authorities “can’t control what we say”, she said.

“We are run professionally, with a board of directors and full-time volunteers which include retired nurses. Our accounts have been audited from day one and health and safety standards are complied with,” she said.

Last May, in a talk at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, Ms Leahy explained that in a four-hour period of one day the previous month, 30 people had attended their premises. Some 22 showers were provided and 21 sets of clothes given out, while feet and skin were treated, “advice given and much more”.

In the entire month of April last, they had 376 consultations with people to assess their needs, while providing 269 showers and 230 sets of clothes. The people dealt with came “from having slept in parks, emergency hostels, tents, Garda stations, internet cafes, street doorways – some spent the night just walking around the city, and a few sofa-surfing,” she said.


She was disappointed at the Taoiseach playing down the housing crisis last week by saying Ireland had one of the lowest levels of homelessness, and at Minister of State Damien English’s claim that media coverage of the issue was damaging to Ireland’s international reputation.

Politicians were approaching homelessness “through computers” and agencies which were concerned with “outcomes” rather than “basic human issues”, she said. And everything was “cut-and-paste and statistics”.

It reminded her of the saying that “basing anything on statistics is like a drunk leaning against a lamp-post for support rather than illumination”.

She also could not understand how there were safety concerns in State-funded hostels.

“Some people are extremely difficult, but they must be confronted and told: ‘This is not acceptable’,” she said.

In 1975, when Ms Leahy set up the trust, the State built 8,794 houses for the homeless. In the first six months of this year, just 455 such houses were built for a 120,598 waiting list, as of the end of September last.


The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) today welcomes homeless campaigner and carer, Alice Leahy, writer Colm Tóibín, historian Roy Foster, fashion designer Louise Kennedy, pianist John O’Connor, President Royal Australian College of Physicians Dr Catherine Yelland, Consultant Paediatric Pulmonologist Prof Bernard Kinane and Olympian Eamon Coghlan as Honorary Fellows.

Honorary Fellowship is the highest honour bestowed by RCPI and is reserved for individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to society.

RCPI President, Prof Mary Horgan, paid tribute to the new Honorary Fellows and said this honour is in recognition of their contribution to medicine, care of the homeless, music, history, literature, fashion and sport. “Medicine and the humanities can work together in a holistic way to improve the health of the nation and our newest Honorary Fellows exemplify this. Ireland not only has a rich tradition in culture, the arts, music, and sport but also historically has made an enormous contribution to medicine. As a nation we are world leaders in these fields and our college is delighted to recognise this with our highest honour.

The members and fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland work with people in a variety of settings, including the homeless. President Horgan said it was important to recognise that need to care for the health of those who are without homes at this time.

“Homeless women have a life expectancy of 38 while for men its 42 as those who find themselves without somewhere to call their own age prematurely. Health plays a defining role in the homeless crisis in Ireland. It is not all about housing. Ill health, addiction and social exclusion are major factors in the homeless crisis. We are honouring Alice Leahy for her long dedication to caring for the homeless with this Honorary Fellowship.”

Alice Leahy, Director of Services of the Alice Leahy Trust said:

“I was surprised, humbled and deeply honoured to receive this Fellowship. My work would not be possible without the support of people from all sections of the community including so many dedicated members of the medical profession. This award recognises my wonderful colleagues, our directors, supporters and most importantly the people who use our service and inspire and challenge us in equal measure”.

Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland | Irish Times 17th October

Professor Mary Horgan, who is the first woman president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) and homelessness campaigner Alice Leahy who will receive an honorary fellowship of the RCPI on October 21st. The annual St Luke’s Symposium takes place at the RCPI, 6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2 from October 18th-21st. Public events include a day of heritage lectures focusing on women in medicine and a free public meeting’Living and Ageing Well in the 21st Century’ with talks from former politician, Mary O’Rourke and psychiatrist, Prof Jim Lucey.

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