Behind the news: John Ross Reilly, volunteer helping the homeless

As the homeless crisis continues to escalate, one volunteer speaks about his experience helping people who sleep rough on the streets of Dublin

John Ross Reilly, volunteer with Inner City Helping Homeless. Photograph: Frank Miller

John Ross Reilly, volunteer with Inner City Helping Homeless. Photograph: Frank Miller

Sat, Jul 19, 2014, 01:00

‘It’s hard seeing more and more people becoming homeless. Anybody could end up homeless, don’t take anything for granted,” says John Ross Reilly.

The 26-year-old became involved with the group Inner City Helping the Homeless after he spotted a post on Facebook asking people if they wanted to help.

“Every morning on my way to work I’d see the same homeless people sleeping in the doorways. I really didn’t realise the high number of homeless people until I volunteered though,” he says.

The group recorded its highest number of people sleeping rough in Dublin city at the beginning of July at 177.

Reilly, from Dublin, has worked in the sales department of Marks & Spencer for seven years. While he had done some voluntary work with youth clubs before, he says he had no idea what to expect on his first night out on the streets helping the homeless. “Before I actually did it, everything runs through your mind, all the dangers you can imagine like will someone attack you. But after two months of doing it, I wouldn’t miss a night.”

Reilly is one of about 30 volunteers, ranging in age from 18 and upwards, who walk around the north and south of the city on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 11pm- 2.30am.

“When I first started, I felt horrible when I came home to my comfortable, warm bed thinking, God, they’re still on the street in the freezing cold and rain. But then you learn to put that to the back of your mind and go out and help again the next night,” he says.

“I thought we’d just be doing it for the Christmas period, until donations and clothes ran out, but they never did and the demand keeps growing. We said, we can’t stop now,” he says.

If people do not want anything the volunteers walk on, Reilly explains, and if a person is asleep, they leave food and something to drink beside them.

“We ask them if they want tea, coffee, a sandwich or clothes. Something small to us is a huge thing to them,” he says. “We take orders for things like baby wipes and stockings. They are so thankful when we bring the things they asked for.

“We certainly don’t want to be asking them their business. But we’re there to talk if they want to or if they want any information.”

One of the most difficult nights he experienced involved finding a homeless pregnant woman slumped on the ground on O’Connell Bridge last month. He says the young woman, who looked about six months pregnant, was unresponsive and struggling to breathe. She was taken to hospital where she recovered.

Reilly says it is difficult to watch the homeless problem getting worse by the week.

“I’ve seen other pregnant women homeless too. There has to be something for them. When we started off this group there were 64 homeless, last week it reached a high of 177 in one night. Young people, old people – it’s terrible,” he says. “We need more housing to solve the problem.”

Reilly says his life is a lot busier now but he looks forward to the nights he volunteers. “You get to know the different people and bond with them. I look forward for the nights to come along. They really have nothing. What keeps me busy now is benefitting others, it feels good to do something,” he says.

“My Mam couldn’t be prouder although does worry about me even though I’m a 6ft 4 inches fully grown man, but we take safety precautions. As long as this group is running, I’ll keep on doing it.”