‘We meet the tragic human casualties of failed housing policies’
Opinion: The most vulnerable risk being pushed to the bottom in the housing crisis
‘When we become disheartened we rely on the inspiring words of St Francis: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and soon you will achieve the impossible”.’ Photograph: David Sleator
Each morning when I wake I thank God for another new day giving me the opportunity to accompany those I meet. For the main part they are people who attend the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, many bearing great burdens and with little to brighten their lives.
These are the most important people in my life. At the centre we try to meet their needs in any way we can. Everyone is welcome. We have an open-door policy and respect each person’s dignity by not asking any questions.
I am almost 80 and I sometimes wonder how my life would have been if I had not responded to a little advertisement in the Southern Star inviting people to follow in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi. Having been born and reared in Enniskeane in west Cork and having then gone on to work in CIÉ, I did not know much about the Capuchins but was very impressed by the teachings of St Francis, who became my role model. Like all Capuchins I try to live by his guidelines of peace, love and care for the poor and all creation.
Francis was a practical man who responded to the needs of the people of his time, particularly those left behind by the rest of society and it was in this spirit that the centre was founded in 1969 to cater for the needs of the people who called to the friary in Church Street asking for help or who gathered at the back of the church for warmth or for shelter in bad weather.
Every day here in the centre we meet the tragic human casualties of failed housing policies and we are so busy that we do not have time to get involved in the debate on the current homeless crisis. It seems to me that we have a three-tiered homeless population and it is my fear that those most at risk will be plunged to the bottom when it comes to priorities and all three are competing for the same limited resources.
The first category consists of rough sleepers. The diversion of funds from emergency accommodation and the cessation of the night bus with its ring-fenced accommodation mean we have more people at risk of dying on the side of the road than when we started the centre.
Second are the new poor who have been squeezed out of the private rented market. If the current appalling situation is not addressed we will be paying the health and social consequences for generations.
Third are those who face family home repossession.
I would ask the Government to consider the following in relation to these people: lPlease reinstate the night bus with ring-fenced emergency accommodation. lReinstate a realistic rent supplement in keeping with market rents. lStop the banks from repossessing homes.
When we become disheartened at the centre we rely on the inspiring words of St Francis: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and soon you will achieve the impossible”. With this in mind I would like to share a few thoughts with you.
My sadness is over the untimely deaths of many homeless friends over the years, some of whom died alone on the side of the road.
My joy is in seeing the unbelievable generosity and kindness of people who have kept this lifeline for the homeless going for the past 45 years. I can never thank God enough for way he has shown his care for those most in need by the generosity of the public. Because of them we have never had to cut services or send anyone away hungry.
My inspiration comes from the people who come to the centre. Just think how much courage it takes to face another day for someone who has slept rough and does not know if they will have a bed to sleep in tonight. Think of the parents who want the same good life for their children as everyone else but do not have the money to provide it.
My dream is that one day there will be no need for such a service as the centre and that everyone will have the social and financial resources to live life to the full as God intended.
My prayers are for a world in which: lEveryone is treated with equal dignity and respect as God intended lThe weak are protected and no one goes hungry or poor lThe riches of creation are shared by everyone lDifferent races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect lEveryone works for lasting peace with true justice. lPeople will have the courage to defend the rights of those oppressed and powerless. Brother Kevin Crowley is founder of the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin