Open doors to the homeless

In the heart of Dublin the diocese has set up the St. Mary's hostel for the homeless. The promise of bishop Martin has become a reality

Jonathan Corrie died in front of the government building, in the heart of Dublin, in early December. He was a homeless man and it was freezing that night. “The homeless are the symbol of a social problem”, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who on the day after the death of Jonathan requested a meeting with local authorities to address the problem concretely. “They are the sign of the failure of our social programs, addiction rehabs, food aids, housing policies ..”., denounced the archbishop, announcing that he made available a building of the diocese as a reception home for the homeless. The promise has become reality. Welcome and care. In two weeks, the St. Mary’s hostel has been cleaned and furnished with beds, furniture, a library, a kitchen equipped and replenished. On December 16 it opened its doors to accommodate 29 guests, reserving 6 beds for emergency situations (they are always full). Responsible of the facility is Tommy Flatley of Crosscare, a social assistance body of the archdiocese of Dublin, which has four other houses with a hundred beds to accommodate the homeless. “In St. Mary we welcome people above 18 years. Our facilities are currently providing shelter to three couples, four women and the rest are men. The average age is 30 years. There are 5-6 children under twenty years”, Flately told SIR Europe. Their day begins at 9 am, with the supervision of a staff person: immediately after entering St. Mary each of them is asked to draw up a “list of their needs and expectations” in an effort to “understand what led these people to live on the streets and starting from these expectations, each of them are then asked to draw a map to guide them out of that situation”. Often, the first need is housing, either social housing or rented houses, but sometimes their greatest need is the reunification with family members or long-term accommodations that ensure an accompaniment. Not infrequently these people suffer from various addictions in a chaotic way, this requires further efforts and it’s not always possible for them to achieve full abstinence. But at least we try to teach them to take greater care of themselves. After that we start considering the options after St. Mary”. “Education is certainly essential, so we ensure their participation in active courses both in the city and in the Community College run by Crosscare, that offers a wide range of courses that include yoga, creative writing, gardening, foreign languages, driving license”, Flately said. “Participating in these activities addresses the need to rebuild self-confidence. For other people the primary need is to acquire skills to make them employable”. The problem is housing. Accommodation in St. Mary should last six months in order to accommodate other people, “but that forecast is very optimistic: it will be difficult to find a home for them. But they are allowed to stay until their situation is solved”, said Tommy Flatley. A dozen of the guests at St. Mary were staying in the facilities of “one-night emergency beds”; but all the others were sleeping in the streets, as there were not enough beds to accommodate them”. Just before Christmas the city council made available an additional 250 beds. Now there is enough shelter for all the homeless. However, most of the shelters only offer night service, so people are on the streets all day”. Archbishop Martin, participating in a radio broadcast, stated that “the long term solution is to build new homes, accessible to people in need, starting with the young: it is necessary to increase social housing units”. The government has already taken some steps in this direction, whereby local authorities must ensure that 50% of public housing is available to the homeless population. “This measure was introduced a year ago. Now we shall see if it delivers concrete results”, said the head of the diocesan structure. Over the past 10 years Dublin made strong investments for the homeless, creating shelters and beds over the period 2006-2008. Then the service was reconsidered, with the purpose of providing individual long-term accommodation. But the economic recession that hit the country aggravated the problem, and in the years 2010/2012 for every three people who were taken away from the streets, every day seven people lost their homes. A long process. Archbishop Martin came to visit us on Christmas day. It was an unexpected visit. He brought food and presents for our guests”. There was a beautiful atmosphere that day in the Home, “marked by the feeling of mutual happiness, and mutual care. It was nice to see that for these people there was a place where they could be welcomed and feel good on Christmas day” Flatley said, pointing out at the same time a set of “difficult moments”. Now we experience the daily life of a difficult job of reception and reintegration.

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