Do they know its Christmas time at all?

With homelessness being a big issue in the media in recent weeks, TheCity.ie’s Leah Louise King went on a soup run in Dublin’s City Centre to get a first-hand view of how bad the problem is.

When homeless man Jonathan Corrie passed away this month just metres from Dáil Éireann, it really hit home with the public who realised that something needed to be done about this ongoing problem.

Within days, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly pledged that the Government would supply 220 more emergency spaces to accommodate people sleeping rough, while Focus Ireland announced they would be providing 31 additional beds for homeless people, in a building just off Thomas Street.

However, this emergency accommodation is likely to only be available until March, and is not a long term solution to the problem.

I went along on a soup run on Tuesday night with Teach Mhuire, a transition house for males who remain drug and alcohol free.

All of the volunteers met at Teach Mhuire’s drop-in centre on Gardiner Street, where we were split into groups of six or seven people to cover various parts of the city.

Each group brought flasks of hot water, a box which contained sandwiches, chocolate, bananas, soup and tea bags, and a bag with socks and gloves.

I went along with a group of students who volunteer with Trinity Vincent De Paul Society who help with the soup run every week.

Doing the soup run was a real eye opener, and it allowed me to see homeless people in a different light.

On a normal day, walking through the streets of Dublin, you wouldn’t notice very many homeless people, but when you’re out at night looking for them, that’s when you notice how bad the problem is.

Most people, including myself, tend to paint homeless people with the same brush, assuming that they all want the same thing; money to feed their habit. But doing the soup run showed me that they are all so grateful for something as small as a cup of tea, a sandwich and a pair of gloves to keep their hands warm.

One man in particular who caught my attention was sitting just off South William Street, with his head down, and when we asked if he wanted tea or soup he refused as he had gotten tea off so many different people that night, but thanked us anyway.

What struck me the most is that he told us that some man approached him earlier that night and gave him a gift, said ‘Happy Christmas’ and walked off, and you could see how happy that made him.

It was freezing cold that night, and doing the soup run in that weather really made me understand a little bit more how the homeless feel on a daily basis.

Before the soup run, I spoke to Mary Dalgarno, who has volunteered for Teach Mhuire for twelve years, and she told me that some people choose to stay on the streets at night because they are afraid to go into hostels.

“Some of the hostels are quite dangerous,” she said, “I brought a guy to a particular hostel a few years ago, when I saw him during a Friday night street run, and no joke there were needles everywhere.”

“The following morning I rang him to see how he got on. He asked if we had any runners to bring him in as his got stolen throughout the night. When I went in to see him, his eyes were black and blue. He had been beaten up”.

Mary added that when doing the soup run, there are some people who just want someone to talk to.

“I have met people on the streets, it could be eleven o’clock at night and they would tell me that I was the first person who has said hello to them all day, because they stay with their heads down all day. It’s sad. A lot of them are hurting very badly from something that has happened in their lives. If they want to talk about it, I will listen, if they don’t, I will respect that.”

I also spoke to another volunteer called Alex, who is a recovering addict and was once homeless. He told me about his struggles on the street:

“It’s very hard to look back and see how it all happened,” he said, “for me, the more I drank and took drugs, the more disorientated my thinking became and I began thinking that I was better off on the streets. I didn’t know what else to do. You become so paranoid and eventually get locked up.”

“When I first got kicked out of my own home, I thought it was my road to freedom, but when I look back now, I only see the harm I done to myself and others.”

Alex told me how he was abandoned as a child and he used that as an excuse for his behaviour. Unfortunately, the families get the worst of it, because an addict will almost always blame their mother or father, brother or sister for the way they are.

Despite attempts to become clean, Alex start using again when his wife and daughter passed away, but he is now clean and off the streets four years.

“On a psychological level I had become very sick mentally, because I hated myself for feeling I had to live the way I did,” he said, “It’s very hard to come back from all that, and I’m blessed that I did, and it’s only through an awful lot of help.”

“To stay off the streets these days, you have to face up to everything, which means staying away from certain people. Your attitude plays a big part, you need to be thankful for not being out there anymore. I had to learn to be patient,” Alex added.

“I have been off the streets nearly four years now,” said Alex, “being accepted by people now means a lot to me. They don’t see me in a drunken state any more.”

“There is hope for everybody, regardless of how low down they are,” he added.

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