Capital Ideas – 10 ideas for improving Dublin’s infrastructure, economy and daily life

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

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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.”

Glowing boxes
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.

Alice Leahy receives international human rights award for her work | The Irish Times 3rd September 2018

‘An extraordinary nurse-led service that offers respite, shelter, recognition’ to homeless

Homelessness campaigner Alice Leahy has received an international human rights award for her work over four decades in assisting the homeless and rough sleepers in Dublin.

She and Swiss nurse Miriam Kasztura, who has worked for many years with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in conflict situations, are the 2018 recipients of the Human Rights and Nursing Awards.

Presented by the International Care Ethics Observatory, at the Catherine McAuley school of nursing and midwifery, University College Cork, the awards were announced during the 19th International Nursing Ethics Conference there.

Alice Leahy is a former nurse and midwife who in 1975 co-founded Trust, now the Alice Leahy Trust, which provides health and related services to homeless people. She is a former chair of the Sentence Review Group and a former Irish Human Rights Commissioner.


“Her daily toil centres around the Alice Leahy Trust. She has made it into an extraordinary nurse-led service that offers respite, shelter, recognition, advice, fresh clothes, warm showers, healthcare and friendship to the men and women who live and sleep outdoors in Ireland’s capital city,” read the citation for her award.

It said “she fights their corner. She challenges the status quo. She queries orthodoxies. She highlights hidden abuses. Where others see problems, Alice sees people. She is on their side every time.”

Her memoir, The Stars are our Only Warmth, is due for publication next month.

Humanitarian emergencies

Ms Kasztura has worked with MSF on humanitarian emergencies in Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Sudan to name some. She is now a member of MSF’s board of directors.

Attendance at the Cork conference included nursing and care ethics scholars from Canada, the US, Brazil, Japan, Australia and many countries in Europe. They presented papers on nursing and care practices involving older people and dementia care, end-of-life care and acute care.

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