‘When you are creating you are no longer a victim’

Dublin Simon runs art and creative writing classes for people on the margins of society. For participants, it’s all about belonging

Artist Ana Martinez with her wall-hanging, ‘Miracle, which featured in Dublin Simon Community’s art exhibition at Temple Bar Gallery. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times

Homelessness is not just about not having your own bed to sleep in at night. It is also about not having a community of people whom you feel safe with, people who will look out for you, and who you enjoy spending time with.

Aware of this basic need for social activities for people living on the margins of society, Dublin Simon Community run arts and crafts, creative writing and computer classes in Dublin. Dance classes and open mic nights are also held in venues around the city centre. Each year, the organisation publishes Scrappy But Happy, a collection of poetry and artworks created by those who partake in these events.

In 2018, for the first time, an exhibition of these art and poetry pieces was held at Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, and some of those who partook spoke to The Irish Times about their experiences.

Patricia Phelan lives alone in the north-inner city Dublin. "I joined the [Simon Community] social club. It's a great service and they give you hot drinks, sandwiches and cakes. The people are very nice and if you are on your own, they will come and talk to you," she says.


Phelan proudly tells us her dance group performed in a disused building in the Castleforbes Industrial Estate as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival. She says she knows lots of people who live on the streets. "I hang around the margins as my place isn't great. I feel safer where I live in Summerhill than I would in Ranelagh or Rathmines. There is honour among thieves and I work hard to keep well," she adds.

Dublin Simon Community has launched the 8th edition of 'Scrappy But Happy', a book and exhibition which showcases art and creative writing by some of those who access Simon's homeless and housing services.
Donal Moran and John Adam with their paintings.

Ana Martinez tells me she came to Ireland as an au pair and when the family she was working for could no longer afford to keep her, she had nowhere to live. Originally from Mexico, she chose to come to Ireland because she has a 15-year-old son who lives here with his Irish father. "I'm lucky in that I was never on the streets. I found a place to sleep every night and I now live in a hostel.

“I first went along to the Simon Community soup runs and then little by little I got involved in the social club. It has a very cosy atmosphere,” she explains.

‘Very spiritual’

Martinez says she enjoys the creative writing classes and an art and nature workshop held at Airfield Farm in Dundrum. For the exhibition in the Temple Bar Gallery, she created a wall-hanging from wool and religious trinkets. "Getting people to do artistic things is very spiritual. You become the creator and you are no longer a victim when you do these things," she says. Martinez also works 20 hours a week at the Simon Community detox centre, on a community employment scheme.

Noel McKenna goes along to the social club in Dublin on Monday and Wednesday nights. “We play bingo. We sing and play music and have tea and cake. The company is good,” he says. McKenna was homeless years ago but now lives in a single room near Temple Street Children’s Hospital. “I know quite a lot of people who are on the streets. It’s a lot harder to get a home now. I keep in good health. I cycle, swim, climb mountains and run if I have to.”

Claire O'Connor with her painting.

Anna West works in the participation and development team at Dublin Simon Community. She runs a lot of the literary and personal development courses for clients, who are referred to Dublin Simon Community through supported housing services.

“These classes give structure to people’s lives. Many of them live in stressful situations. We have around 18 people from all age groups who come along to the different activities,” she explains.

She says there is a therapeutic value behind the activities. “It is a holistic approach to learning. When you partake in a creative, calm class, you can feel relaxed and you can build your confidence. It’s a safe environment and some of the clients go on to do mainstream college courses afterwards. It’s a way of engaging people who didn’t know they wanted to do.”