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Retired, isolated and lonely: Volunteering with homeless can be 'life-giving'

Volunteering is a two-way street for wet hostel worker Brian Molloy.

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OLD AGE INEVITABLY brings retirement. And, often, retirement can lead to boredom and isolation.

These were the feelings that shrouded a retired Dublin schoolteacher three years ago.

Brian MolloY faced up to it, deciding to shake off the ennui by becoming a volunteer.

“About 2006, I worked with Depaul Ireland,” he told TheJournal.ie. “I retired three years ago from teaching and I had time on my hands. I wanted to be involved and it occurred to me to do it again.”

Depaul provides outreach and accommodation services for people experiencing homelessness in Dublin, Belfast, Dungannon and Derry. It makes almost 400 beds available to men, women and children, supporting more than 2,000 people annually.

Molloy is one of 340 volunteers who work in family, criminal, mental health, community and harm reduction services.

“I used to work with a person in the community who was being settled,” he explains. “I visited him once a fortnight for a year and a half.”

Before retiring, he worked first as a primary school teacher and then in a second-chance education centre for adults in Dublin 8.

Initially interested in working in hospitals, the Dublin native decided to volunteer in Sundial House, a wet hostel for long-term homeless alcoholics.

He visits the clients in the hospital once a week and spends four days a week at the accommodation service, which offers a ‘bed for life’ to its 30 residents.

“I was appointed to here because quite a lot of them find themselves in hospital where they are quite isolated.

At present, I visit the hospital every Tuesday. Some will have visits from family, others will have none at all. They will say that I’m the only one who visits them.

But the volunteering system is a two-way street.

“When I retired, I found myself in isolation and a certain amount of boredom. I get an awful lot from here,” he says. “I get an awful lot from the staff who are very welcoming and, in a special way, from the residents. The interaction with the residents is very life-giving to me.”

Molloy has created friendships with residents over the years, and continues to stay in touch with a number who have left and are now in nursing homes or other accommodation services.

“One thing that heartens me is when I hear of a resident who has gone for detox and wants to get treatment,” he continues, but equally there are more difficult aspects of the job.

“A thing that disturbs me is when someone is evidently harming themselves and won’t give up. It’s the whiskey, in particular. You can see how it’s affecting their liver, their health.”

During his days at Sundial, Molloy runs a Breakfast Club for the residents.

The first meal of the day is particularly important for users as it is often the only meal they will consume before they start imbibing.

It also gives them a rare social setting.

“It gets them out of their room, where I think they spend a lot of time. It’s isolating. About 10 people a day come and talk to each other. It also keeps them off drink for that period.”

Nutrition is an important element of the services provided by Sundial and the cooked breakfast is central to the programme, as is a baking class that he also helps with.

Molloy has also undertaken a different project to document the residents’ life stories.

“That I do on a one-to-one basis. It’s very special as it gets them to reflect back on their lives. For some, we do their life on the streets. One of the residents spent 10 years living on the streets.

“They really get a lot out of it. Often, they are proud of their lives. I put the final product together in a book for them.”

Molloy has encouraged others, including his brother, to consider volunteering on retirement.

“It doesn’t have to be with homeless services,” he said, “Find something that suits you and it gives you an extra lease of life as you get older.”

Top image: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons

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

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