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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# looking at the stars
"It's shocking that it comes down to us to do this": Writers set out to raise €15k for the homeless
We talked to the editors of a new anthology that’s raising money for the Simon Community.

AS POET KERRIE O’Brien watched the homelessness problem in Dublin get worse and worse, she knew she wanted to do something about it.

But in the wake of scandals involving Irish charities, she also knew she wanted to do something that would have a real and genuine impact on people affected by homelessness.

Then she met a woman who would convince her that she needed to take action sooner rather than later.

“One day I started talking to a girl on Grafton St, back in May. She was a bit younger than me,” O’Brien told TheJournal.ie. “I asked did she have somewhere to go that night, and she said she has her own tent – she doesn’t go to hostels because they’re too rough and she could get attacked.”

“That’s not ‘new’ news, but it’s appalling,” said O’Brien of the girl’s fears. “It turned out her name was also Kerrie – and for me it was the last straw really.”

She fired off a tweet and Facebook post about her desire to do something to help, using her own skills as a writer and her contacts from the Irish literary scene, and was overwhelmed with the response.

Soon, an anthology, with all of the proceeds going to charity, came into shape. That book, Looking at the Stars, was released this week. The whole process took just six months and O’Brien credits the generosity of people throughout the Irish literary scene.

“There was literally instantly a response – it was completely phenomenal,” she said. The director of the Munster Literature Centre pledged €500 towards the book, while numerous writers offered their support and stories.

“It proves we were all sick of this situation and want to make a bit of a difference,” said O’Brien.

“We shouldn’t have to do this”

Though she wants to play her part, O’Brien emphasised that more needs to be done to tackle homelessness in Ireland.

“It is quite shocking it comes down to a poet and the writers and the literary organisations to do this,” said O’Brien, who emphasised that rough sleeper teams such as Simon’s are under constant pressure.

“It should be the government – this shouldn’t be such a crisis. Obviously I am very grateful, but still quite appalled that it has come down to this.”

“My thing would be to raise awareness, but also I’m in awe of what the Simon Community do,” she said, adding there isn’t enough funding for the charity.

The latest figures showed that there are nearly 1,000 homeless families living in emergency accommodation in Dublin. That’s a 60% increase since last year.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said in September that more than 200 extra emergency beds are to be made available for people living on the streets before Christmas. There will also be between 210 and 230 additional beds available from November through to December.

Through Twitter, O’Brien was put in touch with the Simon Community, who showed her Scrappy But Happy, an anthology of writing and artwork by Simon Community clients.

Some of the pieces by clients are included in Looking at the Stars. “I think it’s very nice to have famous writers writing for it, but I wanted it to be real and political,” she explains.

“A lot of the pieces are quite raw, powerful and angry,” she added.

Transparent fundraising

O’Brien was keen from the get-go that the whole process would be transparent. Every cent of the €15 paid for each book goes to the Simon Community, and more specifically to its rough sleeper team.

The book is completely funded by the Munster Literature Centre, Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, Poetry Ireland and the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Writers like Sinéad Gleeson, Sebastian Barry, Kevin Barry, Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Donal Ryan have all contributed pieces.

“I didn’t want any money going to a publishing house,” said O’Brien, who also wanted the book out before Christmas and for there to be no distribution fees. The bookshops selling the book – Dubray Books and Books Upstairs – will transfer the money directly to Simon, which means that €15,000 will be raised from the pressing of 1,000 books. People will be able to donate extra funds through the website.

The instant response to the book “shows that everyone is just angry at the situation or thinks it’s appalling” said O’Brien.

“I am literally overwhelmed by the support – everyone is absolutely amazing.”

She added:

On a personal level, I broke my foot last year and couldn’t walk for six months. I could see how quickly even with something like an accident how your life can be turned upside down. If it wasn’t for my mother, I can see how quickly you can lose a job or have nothing, have no savings, how it can all go so wrong.

Working with O’Brien was her co-editor Alice Kinsella. ”Fiction, poetry and nonfiction have an ability to reach someone on a very personal level and change someone’s mind,” said Kinsella.

“The pieces in the book are very personal: they invite the reader to really empathise with the individual in the situation.”

It’s one of those problems that people think is inevitable, and it’s not – it’s really not and there are little ways in which you can help.

“There’s a great bit in the book written by one of the Simon Community clients saying it’s a thousand little things that breaks someone and leads them to homelessness. But in reverse it’s a thousand little good things that can help someone and help them out of this situation.”

Looking At The Stars is available at Dubray Books, Books Upstairs and through the official website.

Read: At least 168 people were sleeping rough in Dublin last night>

Read: More than charity: Art could be the key to turning these people’s lives around>

Read: ‘I need a new sleeping bag, some lady poured water down on top of me while I slept’>

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