Homelessness volunteers defended after Eileen Gleeson remarks

Seanad hears it is unacceptable to dismiss work of ‘empathy and compassion’

Senator Lynn Ruane said volunteers she had encountered had taken into account the personalities of the homeless people they met. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons.

Senator Lynn Ruane said volunteers she had encountered had taken into account the personalities of the homeless people they met. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons.

 

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane has criticised remarks about homelessness made by Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive.

Ms Ruane told the Seanad she was very disappointed to read the language used by Ms Gleeson in an article in The Irish Times.

“Basically, it states that it is not helpful for volunteers to be giving out food and clothes to the homeless,’’ Ms Ruane added.

“I do not believe such comments are helpful to volunteers who give up their time in the evening, after their own day’s work, and leave their families to give out food and clothes.’’

Ms Gleeson had said volunteer groups handing out food and clothing on the streets to long-term homeless people were not helping them.

She said: “Let’s be under no illusion here, when somebody becomes homeless it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years of bad behaviour probably, or behaviour that isn’t the behaviour of you and me.”

Ms Ruane told the Seanad the article made her think of the volunteers she herself had encountered over the years.

“They got to know the long-term homeless, who were mainly men, and paid attention to the type of clothes they liked to wear and the football teams they supported,’’ she added.

Ms Ruane said the volunteers had taken into account the personalities of the homeless.

“Such gestures might not break the long-term cycle of homelessness but I do not think that is what volunteer groups are trying to do,’’ she added.

“They are trying to show a level of human empathy and compassion to people who are on the streets and in long-term homelessness.’’

Ms Ruane said volunteers were hugely important.

“It may be that they are never in a position to break the cycle of homeless, but that is up to us, as legislators, Dublin City Council and various other organisations,” she said.

She said to dismiss the work of volunteers was unacceptable. “Instead we should be thanking them,” Ms Ruane added.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Government of engaging in “victim blaming” when it came to homelessness.

He claimed it was “the inevitable consequence of the nasty rhetoric of defending those who get up early in the morning and saying that, for those who are vulnerable, it is in a way their own fault at the end of the day”.