For the homeless, the Simon Community soup run is about more than just sustenance - it is all about hope
On Grafton Street, twinkling Christmas decorations hang overhead. It is nine degrees outside, according to Met Éireann, but each time the wind blows it feels decidedly colder.
Simon Community volunteers Ciarán Keogh and Azzurra Damen hunch down beside three homeless people, stainless steel flasks in hand. The group are quick to accept their offer of hot tea and soup, sandwiches and biscuits, fruit and crisps. But for the three homeless people, the nightly Simon Community soup run is about more than just sustenance.
“Not only is it food but it’s someone to talk to,” Caroline, who isn’t quite sure how long she has been on the streets other than to say it has been more than 10 years, says. “Since my mother died I’ve been on the streets. I get no respect, I get bullied, I get picked on, I get robbed. I’ve nobody to talk to. So when the soup run comes along, I have somebody to talk to. I have somebody that cares, somebody who can help with the situation.”
Caroline is one of the 5,000 or so homeless people nationwide that the Simon Community provides services to annually. The soup run is just one part of it – other services include housing provision and advice, specialist health and treatment services, emergency accommodation – but it is often the first point of contact with these services for people sleeping rough.
The run begins in a second-floor apartment on Dublin’s Capel Street. There volunteers on “early prep” duty chat amicably as they pour beef and vegetable soup and tea into stainless steel flasks before transferring them to a small table laden down with sandwiches, fruit, biscuits, popcorn and crisps.
A man empties a bag containing socks, hats and gloves and distributes them between the bags carried by the volunteers. “They love getting a pair of clean socks when we have them,” co-ordinator Liz O’Connor explains.
Noel Guinan began volunteering almost 12 years ago after the soup run was featured on TV. “It is basic hands-on stuff. You make the food, you go out, you meet people, you give them the food, you talk to them. You can’t do an awful lot for them, sadly, but you can do a little bit,” he says.
“It’s kind of double-edged. It’s rewarding in that it’s practical . . . but it’s the bigger picture that starts to grate at times . . . Anyone who is here for any reasonable amount of time would know people who have sadly passed away. On occasion we have gone to funerals of people who we have known well.” He says some people argue that, by doing what they do, the volunteers encourage people to stay on the streets. “I don’t believe that,” he says. “Nobody is going to stay on the streets for a bag of popcorn, a sandwich and some fruit”.