Shocking figures preceded TV3’s The Homeless Shelter, reading that nearly 3,000 people on a single day in Ireland were homeless on a given night. Heartening then, that out of that number only 46 were sleeping rough, with the rest given a bed in one of the many homeless shelters around the country. As is to be expected the capital has the largest problem, with one of the dedicated managers of a St. Vincent de Paul shelter in Waterford city explaining that the North side of Dublin has 5,000 registered heroin users to Waterford’s 130, but that services are badly needed everywhere despite the huge disparity in figures.
The programme last Wednesday night followed staff, personnel and residents of three shelters in Waterford and Cork city. It was an education for me, lucky enough to have always had a roof over my head, to see the great work that the people who work in these shelters do for a very vulnerable section of society. One young man from Limerick, recently released from prison with nowhere to go resorted to phoning shelters in Dublin to see what they could do for him. Nothing, bar give him a sleeping bag, he was told, due to the huge volume of people desperate for what the shelters could provide only a certain number of. He tried Cork, and was referred to St. Vincent’s where he has been for two months and is working on getting himself back on his feet. Only 25, the path he had been going down was very uncertain, but with the help of a special programme devised by St. Vincent’s and aimed at giving 20 – 25 year old men practical skills and experience in working effectively in teams, he now has the confidence to get help; finding a job, finding a home, finding a life.
Two cleaners of the Waterford shelters have been there for 11 and 14 years respectively, and like the rest of the long-term staff have no intention of leaving any time soon. The environment there is supportive, caring, encouraging but no-nonsense that the spirit rubs off on everyone, and the men who reside there temporarily are all keen to make something of them selves. It’s probably no surprise that the majority of those interviewed who ended up homeless did so with the help of alcohol and drug abuse, but, as will be demonstrated in tonight’s (Wednesday 10th September) concluding episode this is not the only way someone can end up without a home.
The Homeless Shelter offers an insight into the plight of an invisible part of our community, both heartbreaking and, with the help of the tremendous job the staff in these institutions are doing, hopeful.
– Aoife B Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 10th September 2014