Losing the shelter of your life

How many times have you heard somebody say, “I would give money to the homeless but I know they will just spend it on alcohol or drugs.”

This is a common view held by many people, when they see a person curled up outside a shop in a blanket or beside an ATM, the assumption is that they somehow must have brought it on themselves.

Although not everyone holds this belief, it can be easily assumed that if the person had not made the decisions they did in their life, they would not be homeless.

However, Carol O’Bryan, chief executive of the Simon Community Northern Ireland spoke to The College View about the new trend emerging within the homeless community. “Increasingly we’re dealing with the new homeless – people who have been living fairly comfortably until hit by job loss, family break up or another crisis.

“Their savings soon run out and suddenly they find they can’t meet the mortgage payments or pay the landlord. Often they turn in desperation to the quick fix loans they see advertised on TV, not realising that the high interest charged by many will only add to their problems.”

Ms O’Bryan acknowledges that homeless people can often be seen in a very slanted view with people assuming that they are addicted to drugs or having suffering from mental illness.

“These families don’t fit society’s traditional stereotype of the homeless; they aren’t running away from anything; they are not transitioning out of care; they don’t have mental health issues, alcohol or substance abuse problems.”

The last census carried out by Central Statistics Office found that more than 3,800 people were homeless across Ireland with 59 men and six women sleeping rough.

Fr Peter McVerry has been working with Dublin’s young homeless for more than 30 years. During this time he has campaigned for the rights of these people and has also taken countless homeless people into his own home over the years.

He set up the Peter McVerry Trust in 1983 which has progressed from providing a three bedroom flat in Ballymun to today’s wide range of services catering for the diverse needs of homeless people.

When asked if homelessness had increased since the arrival of the recession Fr McVerry told The College View: “I think there has being a significant rise. I understand that there are now eight new people becoming homeless every day and approaching services for accommodation.”

Fr McVerry also talked about the variety of people that come to the shelter looking for accommodation. “We get all sorts of people coming particularly into the emergency shelters. You can get people from 18 to 60 or over. You get a huge range of people who have fallen into homelessness and are looking for a way out.”

With the influx of people seeking the hostel’s services, Fr McVerry admits he is struggling to keep up with demand.“Traditionally we would have had a waiting list for our medium term hostels. That’s where people can stay up to six months while they are trying to sort something out.

Now you’re looking at a waiting list of months. At the moment, I just feel there isn’t any point in putting people on a waiting list. By the time they get to their place on the waiting list they’ve either found somewhere or things have deteriorated to where they’re in prison or they are in a mental hospital.”

Many people are not recognising the severity of homelessness in Ireland, it is all around us. And just because you can’t always see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Claire Corrigan

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