Locals set up new support group for homeless

Inner city campaign a response to rising numbers sleeping rough in Dublin


A 17-year-old boy begging outside Spar on Dame Street, Dublin, two couples bedded down at Liberty Hall, five men with sleeping bags inside the railings of the Custom House, seven men sleeping in the foyer of Store Street Garda station, a distressed couple at a bus stop on George’s Street – who had had a baby eight weeks ago – with nowhere to go. These were among 110 homeless people a new volunteer group in Dublin fed one night this week.

Inner City Helping the Homeless (ICHH) has been in existence since November, having started out as a temporary response to rising homelessness which its founder, Anthony Flynn, thought would last “just until Christmas”.

As manager of a bar in the city centre, he says he had noticed an increase in the number of people sleeping rough since the autumn.

Rise in homeless

“I’d be going home at two in the morning and could see where there had been one person sleeping in a doorway, there’d be two or three,” he said.

“I talked to some friends and we put the idea up on Facebook of a group going out for a few weeks, with food and blankets. We said we’d have a meeting and anyone interested could come along to plan it.

“About 100 people turned up, queuing to get in. It just caught people’s imagination. I suppose they saw what we were seeing and wanted to help.” They were also inundated with donations of food and clothes.

They began distributing sandwiches, tea and coffee, soup, chocolate bars, fruit and water, as well as blankets, clothes, fresh socks and underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

They specifically chose to go out late. While the long-standing soup run operated by Dublin Simon goes out from 7.30pm until 9.30pm seven nights a week, ICHH are out between 10.30pm and 2am.

Bed down at 11pm

“We find a lot of the people who need us haven’t even bedded down until 10 or 11. The plan was to do this just until Christmas, but we could see there was a need,” he says. “So we’ve kept going.

“At the moment we’re out Wednesdays and Thursdays” says Flynn. “We hope to add Tuesdays and by Christmas we’d like to be going out five nights a week.”

The operation, which has about 60 regular volunteers and others that volunteer occasionally, is completely voluntary and not aligned to any other organisation. In the last few weeks they have established a management committee, with a fundraising manager and communications manager.

They have registered as a limited company without share capital and have applied for charitable status, as well as securing a two-year lease on premises with a kitchen and meeting space, on Killarney Street just off Amiens Street in the north inner city.

“Week on week we have seen an increase in the numbers sleeping rough. The first night we went out we met 64 people. Now it’s never less than 100 and last week we met 127 people in one night.”

Wednesday night this week saw 40 volunteers gather at their HQ at 10pm. They are all ages and most seem to be from the immediate area. Among them is a store worker with Marks & Spencer, a retired businessman, a grandmother and a young woman who works in an office.

They are issued with hi-vis jackets and split into five groups of eight, each of which is issued with crates of food, flasks of tea and soup as well as crates of clothes.

Following a briefing from Flynn they set off in cars to three bases – St Stephen’s Green, Store Street and the GPO on O’Connell Street. The GPO team stays there, with a stall of supplies and food to which 32 homeless people will come during the night.

Two groups cover streets north of the Liffey and the southside, where they approach rough sleepers or anyone who is clearly homeless. Most recognise the ICHH groups and are pleased to see them, some even greeting them by name.

The food has been prepared earlier in the evening. It has all been donated by local businesses, obtained from Foodcloud – a new social enterprise which matches businesses throwing out good food with charities that need it – or it is bought by the group. They fundraise constantly says Flynn.

ICHH has been supported by local Cllr Christy Burke since it began. He continues his support as Lord Mayor and was among the volunteers on Wednesday night.

The group will meet Dublin Region Homeless Executive – which delivers homeless services on behalf of the four local authorities – within the next fortnight.

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