August 22 will see the end of an era in Dublin’s north inner city.
The Capuchin Day Centre outreach for those experiencing homelessness or poverty will see the retirement of its founder and figurehead, 87-year-old Brother Kevin Crowley, generally known simply as Brother Kevin.
The centre he founded in 1969 has grown exponentially in the 53 years since, and now serves an equivalent of 1,000 people a day with a hot meal or a food parcel, clothes, or daycare facilities.
Along with the Peter McVerry Trust, Brother Kevin’s efforts have become synonymous with Dublin’s kinder side, while the centre he founded has grown into an outreach behemoth which costs €4m a year to run, the vast majority of it coming from charitable donations.
He sees Dublin and the Dubs as his family, but he is not one of them by birth. Born and raised in West Cork, it is to the banks of the Lee he will be retiring, to the Church of the Holy Trinity in the city, which is run by the Capuchin order.
“My blood is Cork. But my love for the Dubs is huge,” he says. “The people are my family, I will miss it.”
The man is kindly, fun and soft-spoken, and seems younger than his years (“My health could be better,” he says simply) but his retirement comes at a time of great uncertainty for Dublin and the country at large.
Downstairs from his office where we’re speaking, on a glorious August afternoon, the Capuchin centre is jam-packed with people of all sorts. And families, lots of families. These are not people, mostly, who have any telltale hallmark that they are experiencing poverty. But they are here for good reason, as an unprecedented cost-of-living and housing crisis bites deep.
“It’s my big fear now that I’m leaving,” he says, of the potential for the crisis to get even worse.
“For working people, even people who are earning medium wage are seeing difficulties now as well, in paying the ESB bill. And especially if they have four or five children.”
He is very firm on what needs to be done to change the tragic trajectory the country seems to be on.
“There is no reason why; there is loads of land around the city that the council could use for homes for unfortunate people.”
What of Michael D Higgins's intervention last June, in describing Ireland’s homelessness situation as the country’s “great failure”, a statement that didn’t make the president especially popular with the Cabinet given the supposedly non-political nature of his office.
“I was delighted, even though he was criticised for it. I stand by it. He is courageous, I would pat him on the back for that,” Brother Kevin says.
He says he has seen a “huge amount of sadness” in his time at the centre.
“No one should have to queue for food in 2022,” he says.
He describes seeing families with no food to feed their children, and describes one of the policies he developed over the years: “No one is to go hungry.”
The other is “no questions are to be asked”. That came to him after dealing with a woman and her children who drove to the centre for food.
Were things worse in 1969 when things began?
“I saw people taking food out of dustbins and eating it, and I felt this is not at all proper.
“In 1969 it was just drink. Now it is drugs. We have seen so many overdoses here. If we hadn’t a great medical team, we would have had a lot of deaths here.”
Unfortunately for Brother Kevin, it is his body that has led him to retirement.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “I’m not able to continue anymore. At my age, I think it’s time to pull the plug.”
Will the centre continue?
“I hope so, there is no reason why it shouldn’t.”