‘Christmas Day’ party held for Cork city’s rough sleepers
Ninety ‘Santa bags’ containing clothing and supplies given to homeless people at event
‘I felt compelled to come back. We now help them with their families, I secure people beds in treatment centres, we try to find them jobs. It has been a progression over the three years.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley/file photo
A homeless charity donated 90 individual Santa bags and threw a “Christmas Day” party for rough sleepers on Patrick Street in Cork on Saturday night.
A nine-year-old girl who organised a bake sale for the homeless was among the attendees at the three-hour Helping Cork’s Homeless event outside Brown Thomas.
Saoirse Kearney from Midleton, Co Cork, brought a bag containing a hat, gloves and a scarf for a homeless man she met at the annual social night last year. She decided to purchase a gift because she was very touched when the man took money out of his own pocket and bought her a hot chocolate last year.
When there was no sign of him at the event this year she turned to her mother Eileen excitedly and said “I bet he has got a house.”
Saoirse told The Irish Times she organised the sale in her estate in Midleton and raised €125 for homeless people.
“I did it (because) I didn’t like the way the homeless were out. I saw them out and around and I wanted to help. I don’t like to see it (homelessness).”
Christina Chalmers, of Helping Cork’s Homeless, said they had 90 Santa bags lined up to give to homeless people who turned up at the party. Any remaining bags were donated to Cork Simon Community and Penny Dinners Cork.
The bags contain hats, scarves, gloves, hygiene products, necklaces for the ladies and personal items for the men.
Christina says she has been left “heartbroken” following the death of two rough sleepers on the streets of Cork this year.
Jennifer Dennehy (30) died in September having been evicted only a few days earlier from her home in Cork city. She was found unresponsive in a tent at Gillabey Park in the city.
Meanwhile, Kathleen O’Sullivan (40) was found dead in a doorway on Lower Oliver Street earlier this month.
Christina says people should not be “perishing and dying for the want of a bed.”
‘Pounding the streets’
Food was provided to homeless people last night by Murphy’s Takeaway and the Yellow Bus band performed in what Christina described as being “Christmas day for the homeless.”
“This is their Christmas social night. Effectively this is their Christmas Day. There was a collection for the Santa bags. Cry radio in Youghal used their station as a depot. Another lady in Midleton had a depot and they parcelled everything up with a blue ribbon for a boy and a pink ribbon for a girl,” she said.
“I am involved with the homeless three years this week. I get angry. When we come home we are frozen because we have been pounding the streets for hours. But we get to go in to warm homes with fires lit. We get to take off our wet clothes and put on dry ones. They don’t.”
The first night Christina went out to assist homeless people in December 2014 she was horrified by what she encountered. Her sister, who is a nurse, had spoken about seeing a lot of homeless people on the streets of Cork in the early hours of the morning.
Ms Chalmers went on social media and appealed for volunteers and blankets. 48 hours later she and the volunteers started to assist people on the streets.
“I bedded down 36 people in doorways that night and we finished at quarter to six in the morning. I couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘these people are here all year around. Not just at Christmas time.’”
She said: “I felt compelled to come back. We now help them with their families, I secure people beds in treatment centres, we try to find them jobs. It has been a progression over the three years.”
Christina said homelessness has gotten progressively worse and that while she plans to take a short break for Christmas she will hit the ground running in January.
“Before we arrived here I dropped a load of presents to a family in need who were terrified they wouldn’t have anything for Christmas. I already have a guy lined up on January 15th to go to a treatment centre. You can walk away horrified by a situation and then you hear something worse. There is always something worse. People are dying. Simple as that,” she said.