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Dublin: 3°C Wednesday 1 December 2021

'There's nothing normal about living by the side of the road with your children'

Volunteers at the Capuchin Day Centre say that relative levels of homelessness are not the point.

90295747_90295747 People queuing for food parcels outside the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin. (File) Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

EVERY WEDNESDAY, BETWEEN one and two thousand people line up by the side of the road on Dublin’s Bow Street to collect food parcels to help meet their basic needs.

The parcels are actually blue plastic bags and they’re filled with simple goods that will last the recipients maybe a few days.

The parcels are put together by volunteers at the Capuchin Day Centre from about 6am in the morning and they are handed out from about 8.30am.

They’re supposed to be handed out between 9am and 11am but such is the need that there’s usually people queueing beforehand and coming to collect them after midday and into the afternoon.

“Each week we give out in the region of 1,500 parcels on a Wednesday morning, and throughout the week we’d have other people calling who have needs.”

That’s according to volunteer coordinator Alan Bailey, who himself has volunteered at the day centre since the 1970s and has been there on a full-time basis for the last six years.

He says the food parcels are just one part of the work they do but that it’s a popular one, and one that will become more so over the next few weeks.

“So that’ll reach a peak coming into Christmas week of about 3,000 parcels. The weekly parcel will have sugar, butter, milk, bread teabags, cooked ham, a pack of cooked chicken pieces and whatever else we have. We buy all this every week.”

I’ve a standing order every Thursday when I’m ordering 1,500 tins of beans and 1,500 bags of teabags. That’s an ongoing expense 52 weeks of the year.

Bailey says that running costs last year were €3.6 million and that they received €400,000 from the government. The rest is through fundraising.

“So, for every €8 we spend, the government will give us one,” he adds.

20171115_110551 In side the Capuchin Day Centre's food parcels. Source: TheJournal.ie/Rónán Duffy

The Capuchin Day Centre has been operating in the centre of Dublin for over half a century and is overseen and run by the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church.

Its ethos is not about promoting religion but rather about helping people who are in need.

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The day centre was run by Br Kevin Crowley for many years but is now jointly overseen by Crowley and Br Sean Donohoe.

FactCheck: Does Ireland really have a low rate of homelessness by international standards?

Reacting to recent comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about Ireland’s homelessness levels and comments by Dublin City Council’s Eileen Gleeson about unauthorised groups handing out food, Donohoe said the one thing which is clear is that there is a much greater need than there was previously.

“For us here, we provide a service and every service we provided here is out of a need and it started way back 50 years ago, out of a very small need to provide shelter for a few people,” he says.

There’s not an issue with Dublin City Council, but the needs are getting greater. That’s what we’re experiencing, that’s why we do different things.

“We could spend all day comparing things while the person who is in need is still in need, whereas we’d be better putting our energies into helping the person in need and not bothering comparing.”

Bailey was similarly minded in opposing the idea that homelessness is “normal”, as was argued by Conor Skehan of the Housing Agency.

“There’s nothing normal about living by the side of the road with your children. There is nothing normal about that, or living in a one bedroom hotel room with two or three or four children. You can complain about it all you want, but it’s not normal,” he said.

Read: Coverage of homelessness crisis ‘damaging to Ireland’s reputation’ – minister >

Read: Leo Varadkar: ‘Ireland has one of the lowest levels of homelessness’ >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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