Vincent de Paul reports surge in calls from 'a forgotten layer of society'
“It’s the people out there in need who haven’t come forward that I worry about,” he says. “And we know they’re out there, in their hundreds and thousands.”
They receive calls from families trying to cope with suicide, or suicide attempts. There was, for instance, the call from the wife whose taxi-driver husband had lost his job and had attempted suicide when the household finances got on top of him. “She told us there was no money coming in, and we only discovered what had happened when we went to visit her.”
Then there are the calls to which they cannot offer any help. “It’s always the women who call,” he explains. They are calling in panic on behalf of husbands, sons or brothers, hoping the Society can help financially with money owing on drug deals.
Frequently, the men have just been released from prison, and are under physical threat. “We can’t ever get involved in that. We tell them to go to the guards. Obviously, we know the chances of that are probably nil, but paying off drug-related debts is not what the Society is about. Unfortunately, it’s the poor women, usually mothers, who are left to pick up the pieces.”
Scurry also talks frankly about “a learned helplessness” of some families who have had generational contact with the Society.
“It’s the next generation of people looking for support that their parents received, because that’s how they were brought up. So you go into some houses where the heat is on full blast all day, all through the house, and there’s maybe €20 paid off the last bill, and you have to ask people, ‘What do you think will happen if you don’t pay your bill?’
“The thing is, for so many people we work with, there is only the now, and they can only deal with today. There might be some money that comes in for something, say a grant for school books, but it gets spent on something else that’s needed today instead.
“We are never judgmental – if people ask for help, we give help – but there is a tough love you have to operate sometimes. Even so, it’s never the case that we say to anyone, ‘goodbye and good luck to you’.”
Scurry is 52, and reports that many volunteers around the country are in the upper age ranges. The society is not managing to attract the numbers of younger volunteers it needs, which is something they are trying to address.
“None of us are immune from the fact we may one day have to ask for help from the Society,” he points out. “If the network of volunteers weren’t there, who would bridge the gap between these people and what they need?”