Hungry students begging charity for help

Students left penniless by the college grants fiasco are turning up hungry at St Vincent de Paul and welfare offices for food parcels.

A senior SVP officer said many were also homeless because they have not been able to put deposits on accommodation or pay rent.

“We know of students who are doing what they describe as couch-surfing,” said Brendan Dempsey, vice-president for the charity’s Cork region.

“They stay on somebody else’s sofa for the night — or a chair or the floor — and they have no food.

“It’s a brand new experience for them, that all of a sudden they have nothing and their mam and dad cannot come to their rescue because things are very bad at home too,” said Mr Dempsey.

“They don’t even have the bus fare to go home. They’re only teenagers, a lot of them, and they are absolutely bewildered. It’s appalling.”

Within Cork City alone, the charity has 120 local committees and according to Mr Dempsey “most of them would have met students in this position”.

SVP said the situation was being replicated around the country.

“We are getting requests around a number of regions and each request is being looked at on a case by case basis,” a spokesman said.

“The society is very concerned and finds it completely unacceptable, what’s happening with the administration of the grants scheme.”

Cat O’Driscoll of the Union of Students of Ireland said the problem stemmed directly from the transfer of student grant applications to the centralised SUSI system, which has left approximately 32,000 students without support two months into the academic year.

“In colleges, our student welfare officers have boxes of food under their desks to give out to students who literally have nothing to eat,” said Ms O’Driscoll. “We’ve never known that to happen before.”

Ms O’Driscoll said the €8m Student Assistance Fund — co-financed by the exchequer and the European Social Fund to assist students in financial crisis during the academic year — was almost used up already.

Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill witnessed the hardship first hand when he heard a student ask for help at SVP’s head office in Cork.

“She broke down in tears and left with a letter for her utility providers asking not to cut her off and a bag of food,” Mr Cahill said. “I was gobsmacked.”

He has written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny asking that funds be released immediately to local authorities to disperse to grant applicants with the money to be deducted when their grant eventually comes through.

“The Government could work out a repayment plan for anyone whose application isn’t successful or write it off — call it a late payment penalty because it’s their fault they’re late in paying,” Mr Cahill said.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn this week apologised for the delays.

His office said last night that 10 extra staff would begin work on Monday with SUSI to help clear the backlog of students waiting for grant approval.

“The department and SUSI are in continuous contact and the minister is very concerned that this does get sorted out,” said a spokeswoman.

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