Sleep-out reaches a million

February 17, 2009 in General, Media, News

homeless_01.jpgFr Peter McVerry SJ unveiled a plaque in Belvedere College to acknowledge that the “Sleep Out” run by the students of the College had raised over €1,000,000 for the upkeep of homeless people through the work of Fr Peter and Belvedere Social Services (BSS). The BSS was set up sixteen years ago, and since then it has done trojan work with Dublin’s homeless, largely through their house in Glasnevin which was fitted out with self-supporting flats. The staff there take a totally hands-on interest in the people who come to stay, aiming always to prepare them to return – better equipped – to the world outside. Ivan Hammond, chair of BSS, gives the background below.

One million for the homeless

Ivan Hammond

Fr Peter thanked the students and teachers for their hard and unique work in raising so much money for the rehabilitation of so many homeless people over the years. Headmaster Gerry Foley also thanked those who put so much time and effort into running the sleep-outs and Fr Peter for his great work for the homeless and for BSS, a subsidiary of Belvedere Union for carrying on the school’s tradition of caring for the poor.

The Belvedere Union established BSS 16 years ago with the care and advice of Fr McVerry, some staff from his own Arrupe Society and a number of past Belvederians. A house suitable for six homeless persons was purchased in Glasnevin, revamped, furnished and turned into six self-supporting flats complete with a community room and offices for the Staff. The house is run by Ms Tanya Blyth, a senior social care manager, and eight qualified social care workers who between them ensure that there are two staff on duty twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. The residents when they arrive are usually in a difficult condition and require huge work to rehabilitate them. Over two years they gain confidence until they are well enough to go back into the world.

It is a “Snakes & Ladders” game: they improve for a time, relapse and then they are brought back up the ladder again. The dedicated staff work with them individualy, and slowly but surely give them back their health and confidence – not an easy thing. In addition each room is fitted with its own kitchen, so that residents learn to cook and look after themselves.The house holds six, and is full. Houses with similar facilities and standards of care are not numerous enough to cater for an ever-increasing number of homeless – the economic turndown will make this worse. BSS also has an apartment in Gardner Street. Residents can stay there for as long as necessary if they are not ready for independent living after two years.

After their two years are up, BSS continues to assist them with any problems they may have, eg work, illness, accommodation, family and partner relationships, money etc. This work takes up a lot of staff time but we are willing to finance it and produce the results. They come up to the house to see everybody because they consider it to be their real home, have a chat (with or without problems) and a meal. The staff is their lifeline – they love and trust them. At present we are in constant contact with twenty-six ex-residents whose problems are looked after and monitored by the Staff and at our monthly Board Meetings. Sadly, some do not make it.

Recently Mrs Ann Lenihan mother of Brian, Minister for Finance, visited the residence, and wrote afterwaards: ”I visited the house on the most inclement day of the year: it was snowing outside and the temperature had dropped to sub-zero. To get such a warm welcome from Tanya and to meet Fr Peter McVerry in the comfort of the communal room was inspiring. A short tour of the boys’ rooms showed me what marvellous conditions the boys have. The icing on the cake for me was meeting three of the boys on their return home. One of the boys showed me his art portfolio which was most impressive. All in all, a happy and enlightening experience.”