Hope and homelessness | The Irish Times, January 24th, 2020

Sir, – I wrote to The Irish Times in the 1970s with my then-colleagues Dr David Magee and the late social worker John Long: “The buildings in which these men and women are housed belong to another age. Most of the hostels are running to capacity and they have not the staff to meet the needs of the residents other than providing a roof over their heads. There is much need for half-way houses for people trying to stay off alcohol, for psychiatric patients on discharge, and for young people to provide them with direction and support and so keep them from destroying themselves”.

Our letter said much more, especially about vacant houses in the city centre.

What have we learned over the almost 50 years, I wonder. We have had more reports from experts with vast sums of taxpayers’ money spent on same.

Meanwhile there is a huge number of people suffering, together with a growing number of frustrated workers attempting to meet their needs.

The increasing dependency on corporate-speak to highlight or cover up the real pain and potential lost by fellow human beings in a country of great wealth should be a cause for concern and acknowledged.

The following quote by Ernest Hemingway was brought to my notice recently by a friend as we reflected on these issues in the times we are living in: “Hope is never so lost that it can’t be found.” – Yours, etc,

ALICE

LEAHY,

Director of Services,

Alice Leahy Trust,

Dublin 8.

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Not just another winter’s tale | The Irish Times, December 7th, 2019

Sir, – Reading the story, “Brain-damaged homeless man in Mountjoy for year after HSE cancels care plan” (Home News, December 6th), “scandalous” is the word that comes to mind.

Mr Justice Kelly described it as, “A truly awful situation and one that should not exist in a civilised state”. A comment no doubt all would agree with.

Many people will be shocked by this story, but here in the Alice Leahy Trust, given what we see regularly, sadly it does not shock us. Regarding a reference to the man having “Ram’s horn” (a toenail condition), this is something we come across often, together with many other health issues generally associated with third-world conditions.

This should not be a case of “Just Another Winter’s Tale”. It is the story of a poor man neglected by the State. The many professionals who dealt with this man should hang their heads in shame.

“It is not my responsibility” are words we hear regularly when trying to help the people who use our service, many of whom have mental health issues and can at times be difficult. That is, of course, if you get someone to talk to.

While we are well aware of one’s right to privacy, “I can’t discuss this with you due to GDPR regulations” is another term bandied about, an excuse for doing nothing all too often used by people charged with certain responsibilities.

This at a time when millions of taxpayers’ money are being spent. Selected personnel with limited experience discuss plans behind closed doors with decisions then rubber-stamped by officials. The people involved in drawing up these plans rarely have human contact with the “person” only referred to as the “client” or “case”.

It is clear that the issue raised by Mr Justice Kelly and ME Hanahoe Solicitors in the case of the man in Mountjoy is a wake-up call that must not be ignored by our politicians. We should be grateful to them, even though I know they would not be seeking compliments.

Any one of us could be in the shoes of that poor vulnerable man. Only by placing ourselves in the shoes of that man can we ever hope for a better public service. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY,

Director of Services,

Alice Leahy Trust,

Dublin 8.

Hands up to help the homeless | The Irish Times, November 22, 2019

Sir, – Reading Ian Elliott’s letter “Hands up to help the homeless” (November 20th) I was reminded of my last visit to the Royal City of Dublin Hospital with Irish Times journalist Catherine Cleary when we were writing my memoir, The Stars Are Our Only Warmth, published by O’Brien Press last year.

I spent many years there as a student nurse and nursing sister. The visit was deeply depressing and a salutary lesson in the dangers of revisiting old haunts. Draughts whisked through the corridors from cracked sash windows. Old wards housed piles of discarded equipment and debris. Wings were cleared out but for my memories of patients, nurses, doctors and domestic staff past. In one ward a huge old zinc saucepan stood collecting drips from a breaking ceiling. It was clear that Baggot Street hospital is an absolute time piece waiting for a consortium to spend millions to transform it into a luxurious place to work or leisure.

The sale of the site of course is hampered presumably by two things – refurbishing an old building is not where building is at in the city at the moment (developers want to crane in new builds on demolished or facaded sites), and the stipulation that a healthcare facility be maintained in the area by the developer. It’s a monument to the greed of the moment we are in.

On leaving after my visit I was speechless and then talking to myself, wondering who would I pick from my large number of contacts who have money to buy this great building and work with a group of committed people to run a home for respite care for people who are homeless or older people needing secure sheltered accommodation.

After a period of reflection near Patrick Kavanagh’s monument I thought about the red tape, bureaucracy, finding suitable caring staff, etc, so I put it on the back burner. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY,

Director of Services,

Alice Leahy Trust,

Dublin 8.

Homeless hostel and local consultation | The Irish Times, November 15, 2019

Sir, – Independent Cllr Mannix Flynn has said it is unacceptable that Ireland’s largest homeless hostel was being opened without any consultation with the business or residential community (“State’s largest homeless hostel to open over café”, News, November 14th). It appears to me that this is the way of doing things in the Ireland of today. The powers that be, that is those who make the decisions, then often wonder why there are complaints, and indeed very often legitimate ones. In this area where we work there is a huge concentration of services for people who are homeless.

From our long experience of working in the field, smaller units of accommodation appear to be much more beneficial, with emphasis on quality rather than on quantity. Many of the isolated people we meet who sleep rough don’t like crowded accommodation, and they are likely to continue sleeping rough, in spite of the efforts of many hard-working people.

All in this country are only too well aware of the lack of housing, but it is surely time that a broader, more inclusive debate takes place around homelessness.

Currently it appears from what we see in the media that decisions are made behind closed doors, and this is not particularly helpful.

A little bit of common sense would indeed be helpful to ensure we avoid the blame game that we have now become so familiar with. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY,

Director of Services,

Alice Leahy Trust,

Dublin 8.