Dublin-Rome virtual virtual run will help the homeless – and you

Rugby players Ross and Harry Byrne set to motivate participants in Simon Community race

Charities have had to become more innovative in their fundraising initiatives during the Covid-19 pandemic – as hosting events, which draw many people together, have been off the agenda for quite a while now.

So, when the Dublin Simon Community realised that their annual Phoenix Park 5km fun run couldn't go ahead in 2021, they planned a virtual run from Dublin's Aviva Stadium to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome from August 2nd-16th, calling on Leinster rugby players and brothers Ross and Harry Byrne, to be ambassadors/team captains for the event.

“It’s the fourth year I’ve been involved with the Simon Community and this year’s virtual run is a great concept to raise money for homeless people,” says Ross.

The 4,364km race – covering the host stadiums of the Six Nations Championships in Dublin, Edinburgh, Cardiff, London, Paris and Rome – is open to runners, joggers and walkers. Participants are encouraged to complete as many kilometres as they can over the two weeks, seeking sponsorship for their efforts from family and friends.


Buy kilometres

To add a bit of fun and competitiveness to the event, participants will be automatically signed up to #Team Ross or #TeamHarry and anyone can buy kilometres for the team of their choice by making a donation to either team as the race progresses. Each individual’s fundraising page can be linked to their Strava or Fitbit accounts and also linked with that of their team where they can see on a digital map how far their team – and the opposing team – have travelled each day.

Harry, who joins his older brother on the campaign this year, says it is a great opportunity to get involved in supporting a local charity. “I’m delighted to be able to do this as I’ve had a summer away from rugby,” he says.

All ages and abilities can register and Ross suggests it’s an opportunity for anyone to get competitive with different family members. “If you’re not an active runner or walker, you could aim for 20km over the two weeks. A fitter person could do 50km over the two weeks – 5km over 10 days with a few rest days – or the very fit could aim for 100km.”

The virtual race will raise funds for the Simon Community’s work with vulnerable adults – many of whom struggle with mental health and addiction problems as well as homelessness.

Eavanna Maloney is the nurse manager at the Simon Community's blood-borne virus unit. "A large cohort of our clients has HIV or hepatitis C and it's a challenge for them to start and stay on treatment so we work with them to engage with or re-engage with treatment at St James's and the Mater hospitals," she says.

‘Fear and anxiety’

The Dublin Simon Community has an eight-bed residential stabilisation unit with 24-hour nursing staff where homeless people can stay from three to six weeks. “There was a lot of fear and anxiety during the first wave of Covid-19 as our clients have complex needs. We offered longer stays to those who would usually go into hospital for treatment or recover in hospital,” Moloney says.

Infection prevention and control – with hand-washing, mask-wearing and particularly the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) – increased the costs of running the service during the pandemic. “We had to keep our clients informed so we’d all watch the news and sit down and discuss it afterwards, which helped us all. The challenge now as society reopens is that we are still pushing for mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing because we are dealing with vulnerable people,” says Maloney.

Currently about 85 per cent of clients using Dublin Simon Community services are vaccinated but that figure changes daily as new clients enter the service. About 50 per cent of staff were fully vaccinated at the end of July with 35 per cent partially vaccinated.


As with many other organisations, support services moved online during the pandemic and many group sessions continue in this format. However, the drop-in counselling services resumed on a face-to-face basis in June, making it easier for those who avail of this vital support. “We deal with a very disconnected group of people, many of whom are suffering from addiction as well as homelessness, so having counselling online added another layer of disconnection. We were in crisis management during Covid and we’re hoping and praying that we’ll see an end to it soon,” says Maloney.

To sign up for the Dublin Simon Community virtual run, go to DubSimon.ie. All funds raised with go directly to those who use the Dublin Simon Community outreach, treatment, education, accommodation, work placement and homelessness prevention services in Dublin and the surrounding counties.