Read the letter here
Lord Mayor Hazel Chu
30th October 2020
Dear Lord Mayor,
Thank you for your invitation to make a presentation to you and your colleagues on the Homeless Task Force.
I attach for your attention appendices 1, 2 & 3:
(1) Then, Now & Recommendations
This is a pen picture (Then and Now) of the problems we came across in our early days and what we see now. I think it is worth looking back to move forward with confidence sometimes.
(2) Our information leaflet
(3) My biography
The Alice Leahy Trust
The Alice Leahy Trust (formerly TRUST) was founded in 1975 and grew out of work I carried out with a group of doctors, all working in a voluntary capacity visiting people in shelters, hostels and people sleeping rough. Our service was the first of its type in Ireland and has been used as a model for services here and abroad. In November 2015, after 40 years in existence, the then trustees, after a lot of reflection, decided it was an opportune time to reconstitute TRUST as a company limited by guarantee without a share capital. It was then also decided to rename TRUST as the Alice Leahy Trust.
Currently the debate on homelessness focuses almost exclusively on housing. I heard a representative from one large Government funded agency recently refer to the fact that really homelessness was about housing with just a small number of people sleeping rough. This can give a one-sided, limited view of homelessness and dare I say smacks of discrimination that we all need to be aware of.
Homelessness must be looked at from two angles. The structural causes due to lack of housing which will be solved by housing alone – maybe the easiest issue. The social issues leading to homelessness is a much more complex one and this clearly relates to long term homelessness and the first step is to look at prevention. The social problems are well documented and are all related to the human condition and the struggles of living in a troubled and unequal world. These are the problems clearly seen in the people who live and die on the streets throughout the developed world.
We need to address these social causes of homelessness of which there are many. They frequently relate to the aftermath of traumatic childhood experiences; abuse that was never addressed; mental health problems; a range of addictions; relationship breakdown, low self-esteem and a feeling of ingrained worthlessness; lack of personal responsibility and often a skewed sense of entitlement. For many lives these problems persist through their future lives. We must do something to address these problems at a younger age. People with massive issues can be difficult to deal with and how could it be otherwise based on their experience? It is hard at times to separate the wood from the trees. Building relationships is the first step to breaking down barriers, while ensuring that emotions don’t get in the way. A lack of empathy too can ensure that people are seen just as statistics to be analysed as mere data in a cruel and cold world. How can we measure years of pain and hurt? It should also be noted that people often choose to exclude themselves from a society in which they don’t feel comfortable, by hiding away in parks or other places. This is a human response; it is not peculiar to any one country.
Huge numbers of people from other jurisdictions live on our streets. Many of them came here to work in the black economy but many of the people we have met (some months pre-pandemic we met people from 26 different countries) present with the same problems as the people who have been homeless here for a long time — including many who lived and worked in State institutions in their native countries. The only “decent” accommodation the majority of them get is when in prison and then find themselves discharged back to the streets.
Heavily funded grant aided agencies are generally the only ones asked for their views on homelessness. That is why I, on behalf of all in the Alice Leahy Trust, appreciate that our observations are sought.
No one agency has a monopoly of caring, compassion or expertise and there are no easy answers. One size fits all solutions often only create problems. Not acknowledging the complexities of homelessness will lead to failure for generations to come. Mindful of this fact it is essential that the members of the Homeless Task Force understand and embrace just how complex homelessness is and ensure that wider discussions take place with other relevant disciplines to ensure that future generations can be hopefully redirected from life on the streets. This won’t be easy but it is essential, otherwise the people I refer to will just make media headlines to be quoted opportunistically when the need presents. How easily this can happen was highlighted so clearly following the death of Jonathan Corrie who was well known to us. The unrelenting attention his family had to endure, we know, cannot have been easy for them – and is something all of us in this sector need to be acutely aware of.
Having participated in other Task Forces over the years I am aware how quickly reports gather dust – we owe it to the future generations that this doesn’t happen. That said, we must all acknowledge the daily work being done by so many people working in the voluntary and statutory agencies in our city and beyond.
I wish you every success with your work.
Director of Services
Alice Leahy Trust
30th October 2020