What Can We Do For The Homeless?

What Can We Do For The Homeless?


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Suggestions to help find solutions to our homelessness crisis.

Anytime a discussion about the homelessness crisis pops up, it’s natural to feel a bit dismayed. Our current situation is dire. In a previous article here on FAC, I asked the question “Who Are Ireland’s Homeless?” I gave my answer in terms of statistics: 8,800 people as of October 2017. That’s a lot. Three thousand of those homeless are children.

I noted a majority of these people are not on the streets. 90% are living in emergency accommodation such as hostels or hotels. Two men also died on the streets of Dublin before Christmas. Evidently, this is a crisis which afflicts across many scales. My claim is the root of this crisis lies in a lack of affordable housing, which denies the unemployed and those of lower income the right to a roof over their head.

While not as extreme as homelessness but affects many more people, another consequence of a low housing is an increase in rent prices. I detailed this problem in another article, noting that rents are higher now than they were at the peak of the boom. Once again, I claimed the solution that will make real change is more affordable houses. Any other answer is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

All things considered, this situation sounds fairly shite. What can we do about it? Give out about it more? Wait for a government to finally act and take the necessary steps? In my opinion, and I stress this is an opinion, this is not enough. If we want to see change, we need to be that change. We need to act in our own lives to make a difference, or forget about the problem entirely. The question is; what can we do?

Here are my suggestions:

1 - Talk about the problem.

Any discussion is a net positive. It will raise awareness of the issues. It helps to crystallise your own opinion on the matter at hand. Try discussing solutions instead of problems. The solution doesn't need to be the right one, but positive thinking always leads to positive answers.

2 - Participate in a fundraising effort.

Organisations such as the Dublin Simon Community, Focus Ireland, and the Peter McVerry Trust do vital work helping the homeless, through activities such as soup runs, purchasing sleeping bags, running hostels. Any money donated to these organisations goes to people who need it. They are always welcoming fundraising efforts and have several suggestions on their websites, which I have linked above.

3 - Let politicians know that this matters to you.

Politicians are quite simple. They live off votes, so if you let them know their votes are in danger, they are likely to act. If they think an issue doesn’t matter to the public, they won’t address it. Email or call your local TD to inform them that our homeless crisis is unacceptable and you expect them to make an effort to solve the problem, or else.

 Dublin Simon Community on a soup run in the city centre. Photo Credit: The Irish Sun

Dublin Simon Community on a soup run in the city centre. Photo Credit: The Irish Sun

So those are my suggestions, take them or leave them. Or, even better, explain where I’m wrong and suggest other options. I tried to follow some of my own advice, by initiating our own small fundraising effort here at FAC, in collaboration with The Hemp Company of Dublin. I’ll explain how I did this to demonstrate it is actually quite easy to make a difference, even if it is a small one. I am not doing this to brag, and we raised only a modest sum. No, I’m explaining this in the hope that others will follow our lead, so that several small differences can together become a big difference.

I work for The Hemp Company of Dublin. We’re a sound bunch, and if we have an opportunity to support a socially progressive cause, we will take it. I was discussing the homelessness crisis with my boss, Jim McDonald. I told him about the articles on FAC, which interested him, and he suggested we do something together to fundraise for the homeless. His idea was as follows:

  • Leading up to Christmas, we would ask our customers if they would like to donate money to Dublin Simon Community, which has been working to prevent homelessness and provide services to homeless people for over 40 years.

  • We would match every €250 donated by our customers with our own donation of equal value, such that donations from the public are in effect worth double their value.

  • The proposal would be put to other businesses on Capel Street to encourage a community effort to raise funds.

I thought this was a fantastic and practical suggestion. It gives people added motivation to donate, it gives the company some good karma, and most importantly, it guarantees at least some money goes to those who need it. I got to work figuring out what I would actually have to do.

It turned out to take minimal effort to organise and implement this fundraiser. Roughly three hours in total. This involved typing a plan, contacting the Dublin Simon Community, find containers for collection points, counting the money. That's basically it. The generous donations made by the public do the rest.

The results were as follows...

~ €258.98 was donated to the Dublin Simon Community in The Hemp Company, located on Capel Street, by generous members of the public during the 2017 Christmas period. The Hemp Company matched the value of this public fundraising with our own donation to give a total of €517 to the Dublin Simon Community. Unfortunately, other businesses on Capel Street did not respond to our suggestions, although we hope they will follow our lead in the future. ~

Not bad for three hours labour. So, a small amount of work made a small difference, and a lot of small differences could make a big difference. That got me thinking... How big of a difference? I took the results from our fundraiser with The Hemp Company and extended it to imagine what could happen if many more businesses got involved. Here’s what I estimated:

  • Roughly €250 was donated over a collection period of 15 days. This gives a rounded down average of about €15 per day.

  • If this fundraising effort was done in 10 similar shops, €2500 could have been raised.

  • If 30 different locations were included, could potentially be €7500 raised.

  • If the fundraising period was prolonged to a full month (20 retail days), we could imagine nearly €10,000 on donations.

  • If each business committed to matching the public donations with their own donation of equal value, it is conceivable that €20,000 could be raised in one month.

Suddenly that small bit of work by each individual adds up to a big difference. At FAC and at The Hemp Company, we will continue working towards further community fundraising for the homeless. My extrapolation of the results above got me thinking again. We could go far with this... how far?

Imagine if in a decade’s time, we have a national tradition. One month each year where companies and the public make the intention to share a small fraction, 1 percent at most, of their earnings and spending. Let’s imagine this occurs in December to cash in on the Christmas consumer madness. Instead of nothing but earn, earn, earn and spend, spend, spend, we collectively contribute to a truly good cause.

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The Irish Times estimated sales during the 2017 Christmas period would top €4.5 billion. Consider the potential for genuine, meaningful change here. If 0.01% (one ten thousandth) of these sales were donated to charities such as the Dublin Simon or similar, €450,000 could be used to make a real difference in the lives of the 8000+ homeless people in this country. If 1% of the sales were donated, we would have €4.5 million to solve the problems we are faced with.

The people and families could contribute too. It was also estimated each household spent an average of €2500 euro over the Christmas period. Envision this: households gave to charity €25 of that €2500 each spent. Not only would a vast amount of money be given to charities who can make a difference in the lives of those who need it, but as a society we would be taking action. Talk about sending a message to the politicians.

I think it would be wonderful if as a society we could collectively show our compassion and desire to end the homelessness crisis. It could give the Ireland of the future a real sense of identity, a place of kindness and solidarity, where people do not get left behind. We would have the confidence to solve future challenges, and a sense of national pride in our goodwill. If we work together, we can overcome the cruelty of homelessness. Collective action is key to coping with the stress of crisis, and it can give us a route to the change we seek in the world.


Conall Heussaff
2nd February 2018

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