Criticisms of homeless agencies ‘deeply insulting’ - Alice Leahy

Politicians failing to approach homelessness via ‘basic human issues’, says campaigner

Alice Leahy: “The politicians haven’t a clue, really.” Photograph: Jason Clarke

Alice Leahy: “The politicians haven’t a clue, really.” Photograph: Jason Clarke

 

Homeless campaigner Alice Leahy finds criticisms of unofficial homeless agencies “deeply insulting”.

Caring for the roughest of rough sleepers for 42 years, or since four years before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saw his first morning at Dublin’s Rotunda hospital in January 1979, she despairs of the politics at play where homelessness is concerned.

“The politicians haven’t a clue, really,” she said.

She found distressing the words of Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, this week. Ms Gleeson said “ad hoc” unauthorised groups handing out “cups of soup” or tents were hampering agencies trying to accommodate vulnerable homeless people.

It was “deeply insulting”, said Ms Leahy. It was “awful what she said, but I’m not sure she meant to say it like that.”

Voluntary subscriptions

Located in a basement at the Iveagh Hostel in Dublin’s Liberties, the Alice Leahy Trust is among Ireland’s oldest and most experienced homeless charities. It has never received any State aid and is entirely funded by voluntary subscription.

“People have been very good to us,” she said. It has also meant statutory authorities “can’t control what we say”, she said.

“We are run professionally, with a board of directors and full-time volunteers which include retired nurses. Our accounts have been audited from day one and health and safety standards are complied with,” she said.

Last May, in a talk at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, Ms Leahy explained that in a four-hour period of one day the previous month, 30 people had attended their premises. Some 22 showers were provided and 21 sets of clothes given out, while feet and skin were treated, “advice given and much more”.

In the entire month of April last, they had 376 consultations with people to assess their needs, while providing 269 showers and 230 sets of clothes. The people dealt with came “from having slept in parks, emergency hostels, tents, Garda stations, internet cafes, street doorways – some spent the night just walking around the city, and a few sofa-surfing,” she said.

Disappointed

She was disappointed at the Taoiseach playing down the housing crisis last week by saying Ireland had one of the lowest levels of homelessness, and at Minister of State Damien English’s claim that media coverage of the issue was damaging to Ireland’s international reputation.

Politicians were approaching homelessness “through computers” and agencies which were concerned with “outcomes” rather than “basic human issues”, she said. And everything was “cut-and-paste and statistics”.

It reminded her of the saying that “basing anything on statistics is like a drunk leaning against a lamp-post for support rather than illumination”.

She also could not understand how there were safety concerns in State-funded hostels.

“Some people are extremely difficult, but they must be confronted and told: ‘This is not acceptable’,” she said.

In 1975, when Ms Leahy set up the trust, the State built 8,794 houses for the homeless. In the first six months of this year, just 455 such houses were built for a 120,598 waiting list, as of the end of September last.