Children’s mental health needs | Irish Independent 15th June 2018

A report by Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre was referred to by Lena Timoney, head of Care Services, on ‘Morning Ireland’ (June 14).

The report found 52pc of young people were identified as having mental health needs.

A multi-agency approach was being explored to address how best to deal with this very real concern.

Multi-agency discussions and co-operation are crucial and much more productive when people who are working on the ground are involved.

From our experience of working on the ground, in the field of homelessness since 1975, we can attest to this.

The mental health needs of our young people will grow unless there is a real commitment to change.

Appropriate planning and adequate funding must be made available, sooner rather than later, if we are to make any progress.

Alice Leahy Director of Services, Alice Leahy Trust

It shouldn’t take a ‘snow event’ to highlight homeless problems | Irish Independent 7th March 2018

People from all sections of the community throughout the land worked tirelessly night and day to ensure no stone was left unturned during the “snow event”.

All major events should be followed by a period of reflection with questions posed. From our hands-on work for more than 40 years with people who are homeless we have a number of concerns. Why was there such surprise that a huge number of people presented for emergency beds, not on the “system” and not known to the many outreach teams? This came as no surprise to many of us working in the field.

Increasing numbers of people, mainly young men who never thought they would end up homeless, now find themselves on the streets. We know there are people hidden away in squats, cars, bushes, tents etc, because they call to us daily – many coming from outside this jurisdiction.

Some feel the pressure to conform or fit in, but wish to remain private and therefore are unable to access accommodation as a consequence.

The challenges some pose have been downplayed. Building relationships with people requires a lot of time and understanding.

Sometimes the only way society can cope with challenging behaviour is by locking people away in prison or psychiatric institutions. A number of people were sectioned last week “for their own safety”. Sectioning someone has huge implications. Our nation’s history of dealing with challenging people/behaviour in the recent past has been well documented and condemned widely.

his could be repeated if a broad-based debate does not take place around people’s rights in this area. There are many who have great difficulty coping with life, and some people have mental health issues. Other people clearly have a different way of viewing the world and that should be respected. Is it ever possible to protect people from themselves?

Alice Leahy Director of services,
Alice Leahy Trust,
Bride Road,
Dublin 8

Deaths should make us think | Irish Independent 1 Dec 2017

The deaths of two people sleeping rough reminds us of how a section of homeless people could easily be overlooked. This, at a time when the housing crisis is top of the agenda and money, bricks and mortar urgently being sourced to solve the problem, and rightly so.
Up to recent years reports on homelessness generally referred to the people who were homeless as the ‘single homeless’. These people do and will continue to exist and pose very difficult challenges for those attempting to care for them.
People who fit into this category often reject the conventional values of society and some have themselves been rejected, many of whom have myriad problems.
There is no ‘quick-fix’ solution to this problem. Why someone would choose to live outside poses huge questions about the type of society we live in. A fast-moving society focused on success. Building relationships is a long process requiring time, commitment and – more importantly – an understanding that giving time to others is not time wasted.
Exactly this time 25 years ago, in 1992, two people, Pauline and Danny, made headlines when they died. John Egan, an RTÉ reporter, asked me were there any lessons to be learned from their deaths.
I felt then, and still do, that such a tragedy prompts all of us to ask questions.
A practical solution, however old fashioned it may appear, would be a clean, warm, safe, well run, openaccess shelter.
Ireland always ensured the outsiders were acknowledged, even if only in poems and song.
We should ensure that this remains the case and their deaths, as David Essex reminds us, is not “only a winter’s tale, just another winter’s tale”.

Alice Leahy
Alice Leahy Trust, Dublin 8

Small ideas can give homeless a big break

Politicians must pay more than lip service to the big issue highlighted by death on a doorstep, writes Dr Maurice Gueret.

It was a week of contrast in our capital city. Over at Dublin airport, little Leona the rescued loggerhead turtle was being readied for her new life in the Canary Islands.

The plane’s hold would be too cold for a safe journey, so she was issued with her own boarding pass and seats for Las Palmas. Carers coated her skin in Vaseline to make sure she didn’t dehydrate on the four-hour flight. Aer Lingus cleared three rows in the passenger cabin for Leona’s box and her entourage. The state broadcaster was at the airport to record the flight of the turtle for posterity.

Across the city, on Molesworth Street, a homeless man lay dying on a doorstep. One kindly passerby took the trouble to check on his condition and found he was quite blue. He died in view of our national parliament. He might have died anywhere. Homeless people do. Their average life expectancy is decades lower than loggerhead turtles. The blame game began. Out came the opposition, the senators, the mayor, the councillors, the punters and the columnists. Such outrage hadn’t been heard in the city since the Garth Brooks concerts were cancelled in high summer.

Joe Duffy summed up the spectacle succinctly on Liveline. He said it resembled a circular firing squad, everyone was shooting each other with blame. A meeting of bigwigs in the church, state and homeless industry circles was called for. There were clamours for extra money to be handed over for services. A minister promised a warm bed for every homeless person by Christmas. The nation could go back under their blankets.

I know a little about the homeless situation in Dublin. For some years, I was honoured to be a trustee and then chairman of a small charity called Trust. Louis Copeland, the master-tailor, is now in the chair. Trust is located in the basement of the Iveagh Hostel in Dublin. The service began about 40 years ago with a group of concerned people led by an inspirational nurse from Baggot Street hospital. Her name is Alice Leahy. Alice is still in charge.

The service runs on a shoestring. It doesn’t accept state funding, nor does it have any fundraising wing. Deliberately. Friends and supporters quietly look after Trust. In return, Trust supports many of the most vulnerable citizens of our city. It opens early each morning and warmly embraces those who need that warm embrace. There are no forms and no questionnaires. There might be a wound that needs dressing, a bath that needs taking, clothes or shoes that need replacing, a slice of buttered brack with tea, or a referral to a hospital or family doctor.

Trust are the outsiders of the homeless services. And they look after the outsiders of our city. Alice has for many decades been the conscience of our city. She constantly challenges the status quo and lazy thinking in homlessness.

For many years now, nurse Alice has been crying out for the installation of very basic washing facilities in our inner city. Men and women who sleep rough in the capital have to rely on canals and charity for the human need to bathe and wash.

With assistance from young civic-minded architects, Alice went to Leinster House and City Hall and submitted wonderful plans to the very same councillors and ministers that were hopping up and down about homelessness this week. Eight years ago, she highlighted the urgency of this measure, suggesting that it might prevent people becoming long-term homeless by making it easier to overcome temporary difficulties.

Public showers would help out people in emergency accommodation, newly arrived visitors or backpackers to our city as they find their feet and people living in overcrowded accommodation with poor washing facilities. Public facilities would help isolated elderly people who are afraid to bathe at home in case they fall and are not found. A very serious and thoughtful proposal for glowing cubes, advertising drums and shower shelters was made to those who have the power to change. Potential sites all around the city were identified. Alice’s call was politely listened to, and then ignored.

A friend was speaking to me about homelessness this week. He said there are a lot of people having summits, and talking about root causes, and paying general lip service to the big issue. But they accomplish little, and there are rarely any benefits for the daily lives of men and women on our doorsteps. He suggests that when everybody has failed to solve the big problem, the small ideas might prove much more interesting. And you know what? He is dead right. Just as the little things, like Vaseline, matter to turtles. Little things can matter to people too.