Saturday, 22nd September 2018
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Homelessness in Waterford at Christmas By Eleanor O’Connor

In the past year the housing crisis in Waterford has spiralled. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Terence O’Neill the manager of McGuire house last Friday before he headed off to Dublin with the High Hopes Choir.

"By definition homelessness is a person who does not have a permanent/fixed place of residence" he told me. "If you don’t have your own front door key, if you’ve moved in with family or are living with a series of friends then you are by definition homeless. The other type of homelessness, the one most of us think of when we hear the word homeless is when people are living on the streets. In fact there are two types."

In these harsh times McGuire house which is run by the Saint Vincent de Paul remains a beacon of hope to the 37 men it houses. "There is a greater need than ever, we always have a waiting list" Terence told me.

The Waterford Vincent de Paul on Bath Street has 37 beds and two crash beds and is always full to capacity. However the profiles of service users has changed over the years. "It used to be that we dealt primarily with alcohol dependency among older men, however that’s no longer the case. These days our service users are younger men 18+ and their needs are different. A lot of them have come straight from the care system at eighteen to fend for themselves but don’t have the life skills to take care of themselves properly."

One thing Terence would love to see in schools would be a compulsory life skills programme. "That way if they are not receiving these sets of skills at home at least it would be picked up on in school. At the moment it is a problem that is escalating. Intervention needs to be done at a much younger age," he points out.

"Think of it this way" he says making three imaginary groups with his hands. "Here we have the service users before they come to us" he indicates "and the majority of them we know receive very little instruction in life skills/coping mechanisms. In this group, in the centre are the Vincent de Paul, our job is to meet our service users’ needs and enable them to move to this group." He points to a third group which are Simon and Focus Ireland. "However this first group is increasing all the time stretching us. This last group are to facilitate service users when they are moving on from us and into independent living but they are also stretched. This first group is increasing all the time. The Saint Vincent de Paul is doing its best to keep up with and facilitate the service user’s needs. Now, as well as having this new and ever increasing number of young service users we also have a large number of foreign service users who arrived in Ireland a few years ago and are having difficulties. Our government allowed them to come in and they have been left to their own devices more or less. They’re not really sure how to integrate into our country; they may not have very good English and are not necessarily well educated. But they were allowed in, you can’t just let them in and forget about them. In the case of younger service users if life-skills were introduced at a younger age in some cases it would act as a prevention."

In McGuire house there is plenty for the men to do to occupy their days, there are different programmes for them to attend. It isn’t necessary to leave the hostel at 9am and return at 6pm anymore. It’s recognized that its better when the men have structure in their day. "We have a garden which they are responsible for. We focus on their education, we try to look at the whole picture, we make sure that they receive nutritious food and do our best to put the tools in place to help them live independently. We try to help them to address any issues they may have."

Drug use unfortunately is on the increase and that leads to more complex problems - very often when people have addiction problems they also have mental health issues. McGuire house is a dry house which means that no alcohol/drugs are allowed on the premises. Sadly not all in need of housing follow this rule. This puts them at the mercy of the weather in the winter.

Terence is adamant "We don’t want anyone to die from hypothermia. The plan is to set up pods to deal with that problem." Pods are self-contained small steel structures with enough room for a bed. "At least they won’t be out in the cold" he points out. Inclining his head towards the garden "hopefully they’ll be out there by this time next year ".

There’s great excitement in McGuire house this morning with the rise and rise of the High Hopes Choir whose star seems firmly on the ascent. They are heading to Dublin on Friday evening and will be back to play in Waterford on Saturday night. The choir who recently won an ifta have had a hectic year. When I asked Terence what the highlight of the year has been for the choir he has to think for a moment.

"It would be very difficult to pick just one" he says after reflecting. "There have been so many. The choir won an ifta, they’ve performed at Electric Picnic and it’s wonderful to see the joy they evoke through their singing. However performing at Aras an Uachtarain for President Higgins and his wife Sabina where they received a standing ova-tion that was something else!! To see the President and his wife standing up delight etched on their faces applauding and shouting 'Encore, Encore’ is something I’ll never forget" he proudly tells me. As well as receiving the coveted ifta award, when the choir performed at Electric Picnic I’m told the playing area was full of people with smart phones in minutes all recording us with their phones it was just fantastic!! We were told afterwards that it was unheard of people coming in like that" he tells me.

The choir have just released a very special single with Christy Moore "Fairytale of New York" which looks set to be the song for Christmas 2015. The single is available to buy on iTunes and Spotify and all proceeds raised will go to: Focus Ireland, Dublin Simon, Saint Vincent de Paul Waterford, and Cork Penny Dinners. There will be a follow up documentary on the choirs shown on 23 December.

So, where do they want to conquer next? I ask. "Well" he grins "we’d love to play at the White House." Do you know something? I really think they will and I and look forward to hearing about it.

THE ANNUAL Christmas Day dinner for those in need, under the auspices of the Knights of St. Columbanus will take place as usual at 12.30 pm on Christmas Day at St. Joseph’s School, Parnell Street, Waterford. This function has now been running without a break for well over 70 years.

Anyone, and particularly those who are far from home, who would not otherwise enjoy a Christmas dinner on that day will be very welcome - just turn up at 12.30 pm.

The dinner is of course completely free to the men and women attending.

For those December days when you don’t feel like being by the stove all day.

ingredients (for 6 to 8 as a starter, 4 as a lunch)

- 4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)

- 2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin

- 1 teaspoon Chilli Powder

- 1 teaspoon Turmeric

- Half Teaspoon Tabasco

- 1 teaspoon ground Coriander Seeds

- 4 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

- Juice half Lemon

- 6 tablespoons Yoghurt (Set Greek Yoghurt if possible)

- Small bunch Fresh Mint

- 2 or 3 mixed heads of lettuce.

(Try Cos and Frisee)

method

Cut the chicken off the bone, discard the skin and cut the meat into not too small pieces.

Mix together all the spices with the worcestershire sauce and the lemon juice.

Tip the chicken into this mixture and rub well into the mixture with your hands.

Heat a large pan and fry the spiced chicken in this in some sunflower oil until browned and cooked through.

Keep warm.

Chop the mint and mix with the yoghurt.

Wash and dry the lettuces and tear into bite sized pieces.

Divide between 4 salad plates or bowls.

Spoon over the warm spiced chicken and trickle over the minted yoghurt.

Serve as a starter or a light lunch.

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