'I saw the kid on the street and I said 'come with me'': Joe Brolly on taking in a homeless man

'I saw the kid on the street and I said 'come with me'': Joe Brolly on taking in a homeless man

By Stephen Barry

Joe Brolly has spoken about how he took in a homeless man, and the lessons he learned from that experience about the realities of life in poverty.

Speaking on The Late Late Show, the Gaelic football pundit and barrister recalled how he put up the 20-year-old last winter, rent-free, and helped him get a job.

"He was in a very bad condition on the street and I had slept out before just to get a feel for it all," began Brolly.

"I saw the kid on the street and we talked for awhile. He was only 20 and it was freezing. I said 'come with me' and he came with me.

"It's a very interesting experiment. That was at the start of December. It's a bit like Trading Places. I just trust him and very quickly he was responding to that.

"He was warm, he was safe and he didn't have to pay rent or anything like that. He was eating well.

"I'm about a foot taller than him so I let him borrow my suits, and he was going to job interviews in my suits like Charlie Chaplain, as proud as punch."

To his delight, the man got a job in McDonald's.

However, it was a zero-hours contract at an hourly wage of €6.10. His first shift was two hours and the first week amounted to six hours - just over €36.

The bus fare was €7.50.

"He had spent more than that (€36) on the bus," said Brolly. "How do people live? This is a systemic problem."

The man is "absolutely thrilled" to be working as a painter and decorator now and saves some money with Brolly every Friday. But the Derryman says it's a slippery slope.

"The alternative is very bleak. About a month after he was with me, I drove him down to go to the funeral of one of his friends who had died on the streets of hypothermia.

"There's a small step from that to serious drugs like heroin. You're prone to drugs to give you some release from the misery and boredom."

Brolly also spoke more broadly about the issue of homelessness and the difficulties of making a living amid increasing inequality in the world.

"There shouldn't be homelessness. The problem with homelessness is the problem with inequality in society," he said.

"It's not something that can be cured by fundraisers, it has to be cured by legislation. By policies that try to reduce inequality, like the Scandinavian countries for example.

"25 years ago a home was somewhere to live, somewhere to rear your children, to live with your partner, or whatever you wanted to do. But around then it became a commodity to be traded like any other and no protections were put in place.

"It became inevitable for large sections of our people, because our social security net had shrunk and shrunk, that inequality has increased. For example, in the North, there are 80,000 people without a home.

"25 years ago the average stay in the Simon Community in Belfast was three days. Now, the average stay is 14 months. It's become a place to live."

Brolly also spoke about growing up while his father was interned during the height of the Troubles, and being an advocate for cystic fibrosis patients and the 'Opt for Life' organ-donation campaign.

You can watch the chat on the RTÉ Player.

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