‘Nothing has changed for outsiders’

AFTER almost 35 years in operation, homeless charity Trust has had to cease its “open door” policy because of violence, drugs and racism.

Trust founder Alice Leahy said there was often extreme violence on the part of people frustrated because of their inability to have their needs met.

Many people, she said, were addicted to drugs, including alcohol, and the increase in the number of people coming from abroad, particularly from Eastern Europe, had led to a lot of racism within the services.

Ms Leahy said two reports which she wrote about homeless people in the 1970s showed how little has changed in 35 years. She said the reports were a painful reminder nothing is changing for the outsider in society, and “a sharp reminder” of how much remains to be done.

The 1974 report, which Leahy wrote while working as a nurse and deputy director of Simon Ireland, led directly to the setting up of Trust the following year. The report highlights problems created by the lack of co-ordination between medical professionals and the voluntary sector – a gap that Trust has filled over the years but, according to Ms Leahy, the challenge is now growing rather than diminishing.

The 1976 report was completed in the first full year of Trust’s existence. Extracts from the report show how little has changed since:

“Men in their 20s and 30s – this body of mainly young men makes up the largest percentage of the single homeless population.

“Many have had little education and are unskilled.

“Many come from city ghetto areas. They are the product of broken families and deprived communities. A number will have had brief contact with the law, usually in relation to petty crimes. They come from backgrounds whose hallmarks are appalling despair, chronic unemployment and an inability to make ends meet.

“Factors such as loneliness, apathy, depression, the inability to form ongoing relationships, the misery of the dole constantly threatening the ability of the individual to remain in any way integrated and capable of coping.

“Many are crying out for human understanding and support. So often, they are met by blank faces, complicated forms and an inhuman bungling bureaucracy...

“At the other end of the scale, we find a group of people who are chronically bound up in the vicious cycle of homelessness, and its consequences. These people make up the smallest percentage of the single homeless population. These are the people who the media sensationalises as ‘the wino’, ‘bum’, ‘the dregs’ and so on.

“This is a group of human beings whose physical and mental health is in a state of abject ruin. Their lives revolve around a culture whose focus is cheap alcohol.

“Most suffer from chronic ill health, which is rarely given attention. Their life pattern oscillates from the street to the prison or casualty department and back to the street again. Most of society blatantly shuns this group of human beings. They are almost totally isolated and neglected, they are people who suffer terribly in their despair and loneliness and who crave for real love and human understanding...”


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