“IT’S UNACCEPTABLE IN in a developed society – it shouldn’t happen, we shouldn’t be doing this.”
Dublin Bus procurement manager Chris Quinlan is sitting in his office at the Phibsboro depot. Outside the room, just feet away, sit piles of brown cardboard boxes, filled to the brim with toothbrushes, packets of pasta, tins of beans, baby food, and cereals.
He wishes those boxes weren’t there, and that there was no need for him to do with them what’s planned, but he’s also happy knowing that these boxes do make a difference.
Since 2012, he has organised for food, toiletries and baby products to be donated by his fellow Dublin Bus workers to the homeless, and every year they come up trumps.
The products are all sent not too far away, to the Capuchin Friary on Bow Street. The shocking thing is that, once all the items are brought to the friary, though they almost fill a small living room they’ll only make up two weeks of donations, its Brother Kevin said.
‘He had his own business… then he was homeless’
Quinlan decided to start donating items to the friary after watching an episode of the Vincent Browne show on TV3 that focused on the homeless crisis (which, Quinlan notes, has only gotten worse since).
“They had done a piece at the friary on Bow Street, interviewing people queuing up for food parcels,” recalled Quinlan.
And one of the individuals I recognised, having known him from a previous life. And when I knew this individual he had his own business and his own house and his own car and all that goes with it. He was a guy in his 50s and he was at that stage living on the street, so it kind of focused my mind to say, you know, your own sensibilities are touched by this – how can you try and do something with this?
He approached Dublin Bus management with an idea: get staff to donate foodstuffs and other items, and then give them to the Capuchin Friary for its work with homeless people. The idea was gladly signed off on, and then the call was put out to staff.
Posters, radio call-outs and regular reminders were all employed to get the items donated into Dublin Bus’s garage stores.
With 3,500 staff and 10 garage stores, they had “the perfect opportunity to be able to set something up where we could collect, centralise and distribute”, said Quinlan. He wanted to make sure they were donating useful things, so he asked his wife, a chef, for her tips.
Not thousands of tins of beans
“The last thing I wanted was two and a half thousand tins of beans,” said Quinlan. ”We concentrated then on the dried foods - cereals, teas, coffees, sugar, pastas, rice, all that sort of thing. All the ambient non-perishables.”
They also added personal hygiene products and baby products to the list, and then set about ensuring that each garage would be dedicated to a specific type of item.
The project is three years in now, with a big team involved in making it all work. ”It’s been hugely successful,” said Quinlan – so much so that he’s hoping a similar collection could take place mid-year.
Last year, the Capuchin Friary said that the donation was worth between €17 – 18,000 to them.
Being a volunteer
Seeing the man he used to know made Quinlan think about what he could do, and how he could use his own position and influence.
“We all, I’m sure, have ideas – I must go volunteer, I must go and do something,” said Quinlan.
“It’s very much a case of looking at what you can do, and delivering on it. It would have been very easy for me to say at the time, ‘that’s a great idea – sure someone else will do it’. But it wasn’t going to happen, it had to be driven forward. I had never done something like this before. There’s a good feeling of reward, if you like, from getting involved in it and seeing the benefit it can bring.”
This problem is not going away. It is getting worse. The correspondence we’ve had from the centre and they tell us what they’re using every year, it’s going up.
Brother Kevin is impressed by the haul of items brought in by Dublin Bus. It’ll go some way to alleviating the new year demand, but it’s a small part of the constant donations needed to keep them afloat.
“We won’t have to buy again for two weeks,” said Brother Kevin, surveying the piles of goods. “It’s absolutely fabulous.” They gave out around 1700 parcels last week, and around 3000 hampers at Christmas time – 500 more than the previous year.
Their running costs are over €3.2m a year. “The needs were bigger this year than last year,” said Brother Kevin. They get €450,000 a year from the government.
“It shows you that in spite of the fact they say the recession’s over, we don’t see it,” he cautioned.
“With the number of people calling, the number of people attending the centre… we are open now at 7am because so many people are still sleeping on the streets and a lot of people are still afraid to go into the hostels at night-time.”
They are also seeing more of “the new poor”: “These are people who can’t make ends meet and that may depend on what they get from us”.
A lot of the people coming in the morning time say that, look, only for the generosity of people helping us they would be dead on the streets.
“The generosity of people is fantastic,” added Brother Kevin. They don’t organise fundraising, but instead depend on the generosity of others.
“Dublin Bus has been terrific for their great generosity,” he said. “Certainly it’s a huge bonus to us because it’s so much food that we don’t have to buy otherwise.”
Asked about his hopes for the future, Brother Kevin had this to say:
“I would love that we would see the day that we wouldn’t have any people queuing up for food. It’s one of the things that saddens me, to see people that have to queue up here for foodstuffs in this day and age when in 2016, and celebrating the 1916 centenary, I would have thought we wouldn’t have any poor people in our country – but to me it seems to be worse than ever.”