Alice Leahy presents her memoir “The Stars Are Our Only Warmth to President Michael D. Higgins

Alice Leahy presents her memoir “The Stars Are Our Only Warmth to President Michael D. Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin Monday 1st October 2018.

Alice’s memoir “The Stars Are Our Only Warmth” written with Catherine Cleary and published by O’Brien Press is now available in all good book shops.
All royalties to Alice Leahy Trust.

When a house is not a Home

When challenged to look at what ‘home’ means to us, we usually revert to the homes of our childhood: friends, meals, pets, games, pictures, the presents we got and gave, even the rows we had. Our homes as adults can re-invent the homes of our youth. We can impose our view of home on others. Not everyone’s experience is one of warmth – some people’s memories are of violence, abuse, hunger, pressure, loss of a loved one, no hugs or encouragement. When someone who has been homeless for some time gets a house or a flat, it is not a guarantee of a happy home. It can bring with it other problems: the pressure to become part of a community, to cook, to maintain the space and to pay rent. The fear of not being ‘successful’ at making a home can be a huge burden. The person may not want to ask for help or have anyone that they can ask. They may lack the basic skills that many of us take for granted: cleaning, budgeting, turning on and off the gas, changing fuses. They may leave the front door open, lose keys, leave a tap running or drop a burning cigarette. Their inability to cope can reinforce low self-esteem and make the person feel a failure. Understanding these difficulties, while still having a respect for someone’s right to privacy, could go some way to helping the person to feel more at home in their space.

Taken from TRUST information booklet 2000

Watch your Language

Stigma is one of the greatest problems facing people who are homeless. Because of it, people may feel afraid to talk to someone who they think is homeless or on the street, they may not want to shake hands or swap information about themselves, or they may worry if a person who appears to be homeless talks to them.

When people are afraid of any group, they often employ a set of language to define them. Pejorative words like ‘wino’ and ‘dosser’ are sometimes used to describe people who are homeless in an effort to isolate them and to remove the need to confront the problem of homelessness. They infer that the homeless person is an alcoholic or too lazy to work. These words attempt to sum up a person in one word and ignore the complexities of the human being and the human spirit.

Soft words like ‘client’ or ‘customer’ can distance us from people needing help. They also lull us into a false sense of security that people who are homeless are being cared for to the best of society’s ability.

These words also give the impression that the person who is homeless has the same rights as a consumer. This is not the case. They infer that someone who is homeless has the same power as a customer or client of, say, a bank or a department store.

If they were genuinely treated as a ‘client’ or ‘customer’ they would have a say in the level of service they receive. Yet the person who is homeless, who pays for a hostel bed or avails of a service, has little or no say in how they are treated, or what type of facilities they receive.

The use of nice acceptable language can be even more distancing than the simple meaningful words we have come to consider old-fashioned.

In short, someone who is homeless has little or no power and that is exactly what a ‘client’ or ‘customer’ has. For people who operate in the mainstream, it is possible to exercise the power of choice, to take your money elsewhere or to voice a complaint which will have an effect.

Many people who are homeless are already disempowered because of the problems they have which made them homeless in the first place. In many cases, they may be reticent where authority is concerned and fearful that they will not get a bed in a hostel if they are seen to complain.

The language of consumerism used in assessing funding (like ‘performance indicators’) pressurises services to work only with people likely to be successful – further alienating the homeless person most in need – and service providers can be equally lulled into a sense of achievement.

As a society, we need to be more aware of how we use language, to understand its power and to take into account its effect on people who are vulnerable.

Paddy Gallagher who worked in Trust for 12 years says:

“For a short time I was a homeless person. I emphasise the word ‘person’, for this in many people’s eyes we cease to be, even to some of those who should know better (the ones who daily attend seminars and meetings, discuss case histories etc). They speak only of the homeless. The homeless what? Cat, dog, mouse! Jesus will you look at me, I’m a person’.

Paddy sadly passed away in 2004 and he is fondly remembered by all in TRUST.

Taken from TRUST information booklet 2000

Pat Kenny Launches TRUST New Book To Promote New Kind of Ireland

Picture shows Alice with from left/right John Tierney, Dublin City Manager at a launch reception attended by over 400 guests in Dublin City Hall, Dame Street.

RTE’s Pat Kenny launches ‘Wasting Time with People?’ Edited & Compiled by Alice Leahy, Director & Co-Founder of TRUST in City Hall, Dame Street

Alice Leahy calls for a complete rethink about the way in which society is organised “to make more time for people, more time to be with our families, and more caring time for everyone who comes into contact with State services with less pressure on people to appear successful. The evidence of the need for urgent action, if any was needed, was provided again so tragically in recent days.”

‘Wasting Time with People?’ a new book launched in City Hall today, aims to promote a new kind of Ireland. Speaking at the launch Alice Leahy, the Director and Co-Founder of TRUST, who edited and compiled the book, said that “working in the front line with people who become homeless on the street it is all too easy to appreciate the importance of giving time to others. If we really want to make Ireland a much more inclusive society and ensure everyone feels wanted we must make more time for people, more time for family life, more caring time for people who come into contact with State services at all levels. The evidence of the need for urgent action, if any was needed, was provided again so tragically in recent days.”

‘Wasting Time with People?’ is published by Gill & Macmillan and features contributions from over seventy people from well known figures in Irish society to people who are homeless. Contributors include Robert Ballagh, Maeve Binchy, Conor Brady, Louis Copeland, Theo Dorgan, Bernard Farrell, Gerard Mannix Flynn, Aine Lawlor, John Lonergan, David Norris, Terry Prone and Fergal Quinn.

Alice Leahy said that if ‘Wasting Time with People?’ kick starts a debate about why at a time of material success so many people are complaining about being “time poor” and the implications of that for all of us it will have been a tremendous success.

Alice Leahy went on: “As the pace of life in Ireland increases almost everyday, and stress becomes a fact of life for everyone, the amount of time we have, even for each other, seems to be harder and harder to find. In TRUST we meet the casualties, those who cannot fit in or keep up, and we know from our experience there is no hope of ever creating a society that will be a welcoming place for the outsider unless we can make time for others both in our families and communities. Indeed, that applies equally to people working in public service, where staff are sometimes made to feel they are “wasting time with people” when they give, even the most vulnerable, the time and attention they need.”

Alice Leahy also said that through this book TRUST is seeking to show how anyone can make a difference if they are prepared to make time for others. “Indeed, it is remarkable how we often talk about what the State can do to help others, and often forget the most important catalyst in creating a better society is what we do ourselves. We must make the first step, especially in terms of helping those who are outsiders feel part of the community. Time is required and until we recognise that we have to invest time with others, in our families, in our communities and in helping those who are forgotten we will never make progress in creating a truly inclusive society,” she said.