No State funding for the trust that Alice built | The Irish Times 22th Dec 2017

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.”

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.

Registration on rcpi.ie/stlukes2017/

Homelessness and troubled lives – Irish Times 14th September

Sir, – Media outlets countrywide have highlighted the housing shortage, not least The Irish Times. Statistic-filled reports continue to give a picture of the plight of people looking for social or affordable housing. Many people who never thought they would become homeless have bared their souls. In spite of heroic efforts being made at many levels, bricks and mortar alone will not solve the problem of homelessness.

Simon Carswell’s article on September 9th reported on the story of Jack Watson. He was a troubled soul, like so many other people known to us who have died on the streets and will continue to in spite of the best efforts of loving families. Your newspaper reported on the death of another man we knew well some years ago and whose picture in our office is a reminder of his life. He once said to me, “I would need a solicitor with me to get a service if I told the truth”.

In years past, people who were troubled, difficult or different were locked away in institutions – the large psychiatric hospitals generally – and their closure was seen as a great success. Sufficient community support services were never put in place. Today prison is often the only safe haven for people like this. State services have been taken over by voluntary bodies where grant aid clearly depends on how successful one is. For that reason agencies can find themselves having to pick and choose who gets a service. The crime committed or the psychiatric label attached can have a bearing on one’s ability to source even basic shelter. People with problems can feel isolated in a community and therefore drift to large cities to live anonymously and get lost in a crowd. This is common to all cities in the developed world, and this is what homelessness is about, as distinct from houselessness.

The complexities of homelessness needs to be understood and acknowledged by all of us, including those responsible for planning and developing services. We have called for inter-departmental dialogue for years. Dialogue will be meaningless unless people on the ground are listened to, particularly those asking awkward questions, and the relevant statutory agencies on the ground work together.

The number of people sleeping in parks, doorways and footpaths is growing by the day in our capital city. Drug-taking and anti-social behaviour have become the norm. Moving people on to an invisible life in the hinterland until they make another headline is passing the buck. A very basic open access (24 hours a day), clean, warm and well-run shelter would go a long way to address this problem.

There is a real lack of informed debate about the many social issues of our time, especially homelessness. Articles often lack the analysis required, focusing instead on the now with sensational headlines. Politicians, local and national, appear to resist working together, and this is not helpful. Simon Carswell’s article deserves credit and could be used as a starting point for debate. Hope springs eternal. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY,
Director of Services,
Alice Leahy Trust,
Bride Road,
Dublin 8.

Liffey boardwalk and anti-social behaviour – Irish Times 22 August

Sir, – Rosita Boland’s article and your editorial of August 21st clearly point out the difficulties being experienced by tourists in the city because of anti-social behaviour.

There is no doubt that excessive alcohol and drug consumption can lead to anti-social behaviour and this is clearly evident, especially to those working in the field of homelessness. There is, however, a sense that turning a blind eye to this type of behaviour or moving people on will solve the problem.

Everyone, not just tourists, are entitled to walk the streets free of intimidation or having to witness the appalling behaviour of some people. There is no doubt that policing is required but this alone will not deal with the problem. All of us in society have a role to play, and people need to know that as well as having rights they do too have responsibilities. This, however, can prove very challenging when dealing with people who may have enormous personal problems, often exacerbated by alcohol and other drugs. We need to cherish young people and ensure they are given the example and support they deserve at an early age, this to ensure they don’t see anti-social behaviour as glamorous and the norm. It is important that we deal with this problem with the seriousness it deserves, and deal with it now rather than putting it on the “long finger”. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY,
Director of Services,
Alice Leahy Trust,
Bride Road,
Dublin 8.