Wednesday, 17 Jul 2024

'People ask why can't they get up and work?' – Advocate Alice Leahy calls for more compassion for the homeless

A well-known homelessness advocate has called on Irish people to change their attitudes towards the homeless.

Campaigner Alice Leahy highlighted the challenges homeless people face while speaking about her new book ‘The Stars Are Our Only Warmth’ on The Late Late Show on Friday night.

“People say ‘why can’t they get up and work?’” Alice told Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show.

“You certainly come across people who are capable of doing a bit more and we encourage people to take responsibility, but there are people who just aren’t able to work or to cope and I think there are people we all need to have compassion for and look after.

“We are losing respect for people now. We dismiss people if they don’t fit into the model we want. If we lose that respect we lose everything. I find, even in our work today, it’s very hard to put a label on someone who just can’t cope and there are a lot of people like that.”

Alice has worked with the homeless since the 1960s when she was moved by visits to Corporation Street as a nurse. There she experienced “the great smell of poverty”, something she never forgot. Since then she has released three books on the topic.

After setting up her own service, the Alice Leahy Trust, which cares for homeless people in Dublin, the Tipperary native outlined the experience of those homeless who have faced life in institutions and state services after their parents died young.

“We met a lot of the people who came from the institutions and I never saw any of them smile,” she frowned.

“They rarely spoke about it and a lot of them drank to blot out the pain. They were traumatised and really, we had no right to pry and to ask them to relive what they had gone through because there wouldn’t have been the support services then to support them.”

‘Nurse Alice’ as she is known, said that apart from the rise in numbers of homeless people in Ireland from other countries, the type of person who finds themselves homeless has never changed. She added that the housing crisis must be separated from the more serious problem of homelessness.

“I think it’s very important to make the difference.

“There is a housing crisis and we know there is a great shortage of housing and that’s about supply and demand and that’s going to take some time. That is a real problem and I think people are working hard to address it, but the people who become homeless are the same people that have become homeless in the past.

“These are people who have had very unhappy childhoods, problems in their lives, mental health problems that have never been addressed, and addiction. All of those problems are people who just felt that they never fitted in. They were outsiders.”

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