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Can cinema, singing, or soccer help the homeless? You might be surprised...

From street leagues to choirs, look at some unusual ways that homeless people are being helped.

homeless ireland logo

THERE ARE THOUSANDS of people homeless on the streets of Ireland, or in temporary accommodation without a home to call their own.

While there are many initiatives that help with ‘basic’ needs, there are also organisations that take a different approach to helping the homeless.

Here are there of them:

Football street leagues

10710526_737550806321702_9033692429634493307_n Source: Irish Street Leagues

The Homeless Street League is a soccer league for men who are homeless or have been homeless. This a serious team – they’re heading to the Homeless World Cup in Chile next month.

It’s not just about sport: the team is about community, motivation, and inspiration.

When the Homeless Street League was first set up, there was an unprecedented interest, recalls its founder Sean Kavanagh.

One of the things that struck us was the guys that weren’t picked, we thought there would be massive disappointment. There was more disappointment about not having something to do every week.

Why did he set it up? “I noticed at the time in the early 2000s there seemed to be a lot of apathy with young people,” says Kavanagh. “The Celtic Tiger passing by didn’t seem to be anything for them.”

He wanted to help young men become motivated and also help with character building. Working in the Big Issue, he knew there were things to be done.

The benefits of sport

I think people are getting more aware of the benefits of [sport for homeless people]

Kavanagh describes sport as a very effective way of getting people off drugs, by taking their mind off their situation and helping them with interaction and communication.

“People are young and homeless and seem to have nothing going for them so they can’t fulfill their potential,” says Kavanagh. “A lot come from dysfunctional backgrounds and don’t have discipline.”

“Self worth is what it comes down to,” he says. “Getting involved in sport and feeling good about themselves, they see another aspect of life.”

We’ve seen guys getting back with their families, re-engage and get into a working situation, guys going back to college and getting degrees, getting their own job, looking after themselves and getting out of the dependent culture.

The leagues have up to 500 members around the country. “We’re limited really by finances,” says Kavanagh. It costs money to organise the events and have staff working at them. They’re currently fundraising for the Homeless World Cup.

Every year there is an annual tournament in Dublin, from which the Irish team playing in the Homeless World Cup is picked. You can’t bring the same team every year, giving every participant a chance.

The league is funded by the HSE and the FAI, but only to a point – fundraising makes up the rest.

To find out more, visit

Music Matters

Image4 (Aoife Giles Photography) Source: Aoife GIles

Gráinne O’Grady wants to help everyone to sing, no matter what background they’re from, or what their ability is.

As the founder of Music Matters, she runs an inclusive choir, and works with people with differing and special needs.

She has two people in her group who have a history of being homeless, but she says it took her a while to realise their situation.

Music Matters featured on the Secret Millionaire, and the man and woman in question  said that they had visited the Penny Dinners. “I started piecing it together,” recalls O’Grady.

These days, “they’re more open about it – they’re more comfortable”, she says, and they talk about about the services that they avail of, like their holidays with St Vincent de Paul.

“One of the ladies, she is 70 and doesn’t have any family here. She has been in hospital a few times. The choir members go to see her, and send cards.”

They noticed she had a photo of the choir on her locker during a recent stay.

Image3 (Aoife Giles Photography) Source: Aoife GIles

O’Grady doesn’t want to label any of her choirs as being for a specific group.

“Something about that doesn’t quite sit with me – you’re labelling everybody,” she says.

I have choirs for older people and welcoming to those with dementia. But I wouldn’t say specifically ‘everyone in this choir has dementia’. It would be similar with the city centre choir. It’s inclusive of everybody.

She believes that having a choir specifically for homeless people is not ideal either.  With her community-based choir, “it means they’re getting to meet other people in the community, meeting people with disabilities; some of them have never come across someone who is gay before”.

What do people get out of being in the choir? “A lot of it is the social side of things. It really is that sense of community and being part of a family – and the singing itself.”

She has read research showing that singing can help with relaxation, and it can be a distraction from what’s going on in people’s lives. It’s also good for physical health, she says.

There is a cost of €5 to take part in the weekly choir, but the people who are homeless work as volunteers as well as being choir members, so pay isn’t an issue.

“The people we have who are homeless, they are extremely proud. I don’t take the subs off them but every so often they will decide ‘I am giving in this €10′ and that is really important to them and they are so proud of it.”

The two homeless people help with the members who are blind, meeting them before rehearsal and guiding them.

They are not there as a homeless person, they are there as a volunteer. They feel important, they feel needed. They are needed, they are an important part of the choir. It takes them out of their own troubles. They are amazing with the lads with disabilities. There are real friendships going on there.

She says the music is also an emotional outlet for people. One thing she hadn’t thought of was the use of practice CDs – these are given to choir members to use at home. O’Grady was asked “where am I supposed to listen to this?”

“The stuff we take for granted,” she admits.

If they have events, she makes sure lots of cakes and biscuits are bought, so that leftovers can be sent home with people. One of the members wears almost all of his clothes, and both bring all of their possessions with them.

“It really does make you think,” said O’Grady.

But at the end of the day: “Music is the leveller – we are just singers.”

For more information on Music Matters, visit Music

Open Cinema

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Louisa Santoro and director Lenny Abrahamson

At Open Cinema, it’s all about “film without borders”. It’s a movement that was started in the UK and has since spread to Ireland. The network brings film clubs to disadvantaged people, and in Dublin the club is run by Stepping Stone, which works with homeless people.

Louisa Santoro, CEO of Stepping Stone, saw Open Cinema mentioned in a Channel 4 documentary and decided to bring it to Ireland two years ago.

“I thought it was amazing idea – there was nothing like it on offer here.”

“Often homeless services tend to be localised with services,” she says. “I liked that it was focused on cinema rather than services. It’s audience-led and it’s broken into four seasons and the films are selected by participants.”

This, says Santoro, gives people a sense of ownership over it as a community cinema.

The focus is for communities that are marginalised and people who are homeless. “It’s a small and intimate group”.

It’s free to go to Open Cinema and people don’t have to be allied with Stepping Stone or any other service.

Stepping Stone’s approach is outwardly-focusing, with “sensitivity to someone’s history and their time being homeless”. Their housing is all community-based within established neighbourhoods.

They want to empower people through the cinema, and also invite special guests to do a talk after each showing about their job, or a special topic.

The free cinema gives people an opportunity to do go something that might normally cost a lot of money. “It’s to encourage people towards that level of cultural activity.”

Santoro says that homelessness services should be thought about holistically, and that the cinema can offer escapism for people. She suggests that sometimes people might overlook these sorts of programmes and their benefits.

“It’s something that we might take for granted, and is extended beyond the traditional going to Cineworld – not that we wouldn’t want to be involved if Cineworld offered! These are all part of integration.”


Initiatives such as Open Cinema are “beneficial to people in terms of broadening horizons, and in terms of pure enjoyment. We do talk and we want to walk the walk of really being an integrated service.”

Demographic wise, the audience tends to have a majority of men, with most people being middle-aged, which also fits the profile of homelessness.

“If we were seeing lots of families or younger people, the programming would evolve with that. It’s quite organic in that respect, because it is determined by audience.”

“We would love to see more services like this – we would love to see more integrated services,” concludes Santoro.

“We don’t want to create an island outside the community. If this is a problem that’s going to be solved, the more integrated we can be and the more joined up in thinking we can be [the better].”

Pic: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

Read: Catch up with all the rest of our Homeless Ireland series here>

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