A home for the homeless: ‘I put a smiley face on my stump. Life’s life’
Sophia Housing’s Cork Street Project in Dublin is a community offering support and living quarters to formerly homeless people. Two residents share their stories
Robert White in his Sophia Housing Association apartment: ‘I put a runner on my foot and said: cheaper than Dunnes, half price!’ Photograph: Alan Betson
In an unassuming apartment complex on Cork Street in Dublin 8, formerly homeless people are turning their lives around. Many of them are overcoming mental health issues, addictions, disabilities or backgrounds of domestic violence.
The employees of Sophia Housing’s Cork Street Project understand that, while people often manage to pull themselves out of terrible situations, it’s very difficult to do so without support. The oldest person here is 87 and the youngest is six weeks old. I don’t meet either of them, but two people I do meet tell me their stories.
ROBERT WHITE (60)
You can hear Robert singing before he opens the door. “Members only!” he says when he does. He has a sense of humour. He once threw his prosthetic leg at the taxi regulator’s office.
“I was passing on my taxi plate, there was a misunderstanding and they were fining me,” he explains. “So I left my leg there in protest and hobbled down the stairs. The taxi men brought my wheelchair down for me.” He shows me a newspaper clipping. In the picture he’s scowling dramatically, holding his leg in the foreground.
He shows me around his adapted two-bedroom flat and tells me how he lost his leg, his job and his home (though he never lived on the street). In the bathroom there’s an emergency cord that alerts the front office if he’s in trouble.
“Visitors keep pulling it by accident,” he says. As he talks, his girlfriend, Vivienne, tidies and rolls her eyes at some of his jokes. “My future wife,” he says.
Robert, who was born in Worcester, has worked in the merchant navy, in hotels and as a security man. He came to Dublin because he discovered his father lived here (“I hadn’t seen him since I was 11”), and while visiting he took a part-time job. “Then Maggie Thatcher came to power and I decided to stay.”
He has a daughter here. She lives with her mother in Glenageary, and is studying engineering. He was always able to look after himself.
In 2008 he had just received a taxi plate and was living in an apartment on Kimmage Road when he started to feel strange. “My foot froze up as if I had a sprained ankle, and I couldn’t feel it. It felt like a block of ice.”
He had a blood clot. His friend drove him to hospital. He wonders whether, if he had called an ambulance, he might have been seen sooner and his leg saved.