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Monday 29 May 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# homeless in dublin
'We're just trying to do as much as we can': The volunteers handing out food and giving haircuts at the GPO every Friday
O’Connell Street is a hive of activity each Friday evening as groups set up to provide their services.

IT’S BEEN SEVERAL weeks since the head of Dublin City Council’s homelessness body made her controversial comments about ‘soup run’ organisations in the city – but the remarks undoubtedly struck a nerve with some of those groups, and they’re not being quickly forgotten.

“When I heard her statement I was horrified,” volunteer Lorraine O’Connor said, as she took a break from handing out hot food and tea outside GPO.

I was horrified for the simple fact that she is working in the homeless executive – she did try and explain her statement the next day, but look, the homeless here… these people depend on us.

Eileen Gleeson, who heads the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, sparked controversy when she told a meeting that homelessness could not be solved by unauthorised groups handing out cups of soup and tents.

Speaking the next day, she said she was attempting to stress that more joined-up thinking was needed - volunteers who helped the homeless were well intentioned, she said, but argued that their intervention could sometimes prevent those in need from availing of professional supports.

Her comments provoked a debate about soup runs and other voluntary groups in Dublin – and O’Connor, of the Muslim Sisters of Éire, insisted the remarks were misguided.

“She spoke about people not being trained – she shouldn’t have said that,” the Dublin woman said – pointing out that members of her group had received proper training in health, food preparation and a number of other areas.

lorr1 Andrew Roberts / Lorraine O'Connor handing out food at the GPO Andrew Roberts / /

The Muslim Sisters are one of numerous groups who set up ad-hoc stalls or bring supplies around to rough sleepers in the city in the evening time.

Their stall outside the GPO was a hive of activity when dropped by on Friday of last week.

A group from Newry Helping the Homeless were working alongside them. There was also a team of volunteer barbers and hairdressers – and even a dental technician who fits dentures outside the O’Connell Street landmark each Friday.

Around 15 people travel down with the Newry group each Friday night, volunteer Margaret Blair explained. The group, as well as working locally, also hands out food, clothes and other supplies in Dundalk.

“When you see the poor wee souls on the street – as long as they go home with a wee warm bite in their bellies or hot cup of tea or a coffee… warm clothes, a sleeping bag… we try and do as much as we possibly can for them,” Blair said.

Behind us, a large crowd gathered at the back of the minibus that the volunteers drive down in each Friday – inside, a member of the group handed out tents, sleeping bags and other donated supplies.

The group has been working outside the GPO for around a year and a half – setting up after the evening rush hour and travelling back up the M1 to be home by around 1am.

Cutting hair

Further along barber Hakkan and his haircutting team were also busy. They get through “around 20 heads” a night, he said – men and women.

“Thanks so much,” one woman said, after stopping for a trim. “Best birthday present I’ve had this year…”

Hakkan, who is originally from Turkey and has a barber’s shop in Clontarf, said he had been thinking about volunteering for a while but wasn’t sure what he could do.

He happened to be walking down O’Connell Street and stopped to talk to someone from Newry Helping the Homeless.

“I wanted to do something that was missing, that they didn’t have already, so I said I wanted to cut hair. They were very happy with that, so we started.”

He cautioned, however: “Sometimes we have no time to do real homeless people’s hair because… we can’t refuse people here, really. We do cut their hair, but we believe some people are not homeless.”

kevin3 Andrew Roberts / Dental technician Kevin Shanahan Andrew Roberts / /

Kevin Shanahan, the dental technician, said he decided to volunteer his services as some homeless people couldn’t get medical cards as they didn’t have regular addresses. He assesses people each Friday and makes the dentures at his lab in Leixlip during his working week.

“When you look at someone with no teeth, they’ve lost their confidence, they’ve lost a bit of dignity,” Shanahan said.

But when you give someone teeth you give them back a little bit of dignity, give them back a little bit of confidence - and you’ll find they smile more. So you’re building a person from the inside out.

All the groups said they had seen an increase in demand for their services in recent months.

The latest audit of rough sleepers in Dublin, carried out on the night of 7 November, found 184 people bedding down on streets and in doorways. That figure represents the highest on record since the official count began in 2007.

There were 5,298 adults and 3,194 children staying in State-funded emergency  accommodation during a single week in October, according to the latest figures. That number marks a rise of 48 adults and 70 children compared to the previous month.

Read: ‘I was completely mortified’: Mother ordered off Dublin Bus because her baby was crying >

Read: Irish Rail staff accept Labour Court pay deal recommendation >

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