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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 16°C
"I was desperate, broke, homeless and unable to break the downward spiral of poverty"
We hear from Karen, a woman who knows first-hand what it’s like to slip into the bleak cycle of poverty.

THERE ARE 698,000 people in poverty in Ireland.

That’s nearly 1 in 7 of the Irish population, according to figures released by the CSO earlier on this year.

It can be hard for for people to put a real, human face to these statistics – it becomes all too easy to see figures about deprivation and hardship in the abstract, rather than as something that directly affects many of us.

Poverty, homelessness, lack of opportunity, isolation, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, long waiting lists for health services, the high cost of housing, energy, childcare… These are real issues that face hundreds of thousands of Irish people daily.

Meet Karen

Karen (whose real name has been protected to conceal her identity) was one of many people who never thought they would face poverty in their lives.

I was a fairly successful businesswoman, used to making things happen in my career working to lift people out of poverty.  Little did I imagine I would ever be on the ‘other side’ of poverty or have to resort to help from a relief organisation. People think that poverty, hunger and homelessness only happen to people on the bottom rung of society. This is not the case, as I found out. The untimely death of my husband left our family homeless, broke and unable to break the downward spiral of poverty.

sadwoman Shutterstock Shutterstock

A helping hand

“It was really a matter of overcoming my pride to even think that I would have to go somewhere to get help with my situation.  But family comes first, and no matter how great a pride you might have – making sure the children have adequate food and shelter is priority number one. When I first knocked on the SVP door, it was answered with kindness.”

In November alone, the Society of the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) received approximately 10,000 calls to its East Region (which covers Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow). This is an increase of 7% from last year – with similar trends being reported in other parts of the country.

Kieran Stafford, SVP National Vice President, said: “December, January and February are very difficult months for many families as large utility and energy bills become due. We are seeing more and more families cutting back on other essentials to pay their rent, but inevitably many have to seek help from the Society to keep themselves in their homes.”

SVP spends an average of  €40m per year in direct assistance – primarily on food, energy, education, clothing and furniture, as well as toys at Christmas.

Karen’s story has a happy ending. She and her daughter managed to get  into  temporary accommodation at a local holiday hostel, with her daughter being able to attend a school that nurtured her talents and move on to third level education afterwards. Karen says, “In the absence of government assistance, SVP was our lifeline.”

I still have two old lamps given to me by SVP from that time, which I still use.  A simple thing; these cosy lamps that brought a cheerful glow of hope in times of darkness. They are a reminder of those difficult times and how a little kindness has brought great change to my life.  I will never forget that kindness as long as I live.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul is a voluntary organisation that works with poor and disadvantaged people. We offer direct, personal assistance that is non-judgemental and based on the need of the individual or family. In addition we provide a wide range of services for vulnerable people through our local offices, shops, resource centres, housing, daycare and holiday schemes amongst other things.

Donate to SVP’s Annual Appeal – your support could last a lifetime.

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