Newswire » Local News » Interview: Peter McVerry – The Champion of Dublin’s Homeless

Interview: Peter McVerry – The Champion of Dublin’s Homeless

Fr. Peter McVerry

I = Interviewer (Alan Finn)
R = Respondent (Fr Mc Verry)

When you’re homeless you either sink or swim, when I was homeless I swam. By being homeless I got all the info on who helps who, cheap places to eat, places you can call home etc etc. I have often heard of Fr Peter Mc Verry but I have never met the man till he came to our offices for a chat. Prior to this meeting, I have heard a great deal about what this man has been doing for homeless people for the last 30 years here in our wonderful city of Dublin.
Fr. Peter Mc Verry was nothing like the man I thought he would be he was a plain but straight talking man, the type of person who was what you see is what you get, and I personally, like that in a person. What follows is my interview with Fr Mc Verry.

I: Welcome Father Mc Verry, thank you for coming all this way to our offices across the Liffey on to the south side. First, could you tell our readers who you are and what kind of work it is you do?
R: Alan, about 30 or so years ago I saw a 9 year old boy who was homeless and was sleeping rough and that’s how I started really by helping this boy and others like him. At the moment, we have 10 hostels, 3 are for people under 18, we have about 90 appartments, 3 detox units, we also do help drug users who need doctors.

I: You have been working with homeless since the late 70’s, 40 years on what have you seen that wasn’t associated with homeless when you started?
R: Over the years from when I started, there has been a huge change in the social causes of homelessness and that’s manly down to drugs. The rise of people, who became homeless because of any form of an addiction, has swept through this sector like wild fire. When we first started helping people who were homeless there were many who were eldery.  This was because a lot of people went to say the UK and returned later on in their lives and they had no family, no roots left or maybe had an alcohol issue or joined the British army and had become institutionalised.  This is what I would have dealt with primarily, when I started dealing homelessness
Special hostles have now been set up for males, who are over 35, to reflect these drug issues. It was felt that this kind of hostel was needed to help and protect males over 35 who were not themselves affected by drugs but were in danger of becoming addicted because of the drug culture in certain premises.

I: During the boom, why wasn’t there something done to end this homeless situation?
R: In 1996, when the so called Celtic Tiger was starting to take off there was about 2,500 people homeless in Dublin, in 2008 when it bursted there was 5,000 people homeless in Dublin, so no I don’t think they cracked homelessness. Even when we had the cash in the pot, the price of renting went through the roof, and house fees also shot up through the roof, it was nearly impossible to get a private flat/ house unless you had a deposit up front.
Then when the cuts came, the goverment re-capped what they where paying out to landlords this caused fresh problems, the lanlords held on to their fees, the person renting, who already took a cut to their dole payments, had to come up with the extra cash to pay for their rent now.  It is like a cat and mouse game, it’s like pay your rent or don’t eat, eat and fall into debt it’s a nasty circle, and some landlords won’t meet the goverment fees, and the goverment won’t pay the extra to balance the books if you like.
The lesson from that era was that the goverment should have implemented some law so that housing prices could have been controlled and made more afforable, but now we know why that didnt happen, because some of the devlopers were working hand in hand with the government.

I: Is homelessness this year higher say than this time last year?
R: I certainly believe that homelessness is not getting any better. The problem we are now facing is when we had the so called boom a lot of different nationalities came into Ireland for work.  They would have had some cash and they went into private sector housing and were able to pay their deposits and it worked for them. However, when the bubble burst and the jobs dried up a lot of these people ended up been homeless, so not only had we got Irish people homeless we have a lot of foreigners too. They are worse off than most Irish homeless because they can’t get welfare payments, at least, an Irish person can be offered up to 6 months at a time by the state, but these foreign nationals are not entitled to any sort of welfare. They are also not entitled to be given somewhere to stay for any amount of time unless, they are found a bed and if they are it’s on a nightly basis.
The present policy at the moment is quite good, get them somewhere to live first then deal with their other issues such as addictions, and whatever other issues they may have. It’s pointless working with anyone if they have no stability or somewhere to live. How do they expect a person to work on recovery if they don’t have anywhere to live? The old policy didn’t work because how could they expect a person to go forward, because that person’s head was all over the place, their main concern was to find somewhere they can find home, and then work on their other issues  not the other way around as that was the last policy’s way.

I: What do you think about our current juvenile system?
R: I think the prison service in Ireland for young people is a disgrace, the prisons are a disaster, and they have become very violent over the last few years. They are always over crowded but that has been an ongoing issue for a few years now, also there are huge amounts of drugs in there which is not helping. They should have some kind of better system in place say like instead of sending young people to a prison, which is already overcrowded.  They should give say JLO to the young offenders or put them on community program that they could do some kind of work in the community.

I: I was talking to a homeless chap the other day and he informed me if you can’t reach the  H.S.E for bed allocations by 5pm, there is a big chance there may not be a bed found for you and you may be left out on the street for the night is that true?
R: If you are under 18, you are by law entitled to be given a bed and it’s the H.S.E.’s job to make sure that the person has one. People who are over 18 really dont have any kind of gaurantees that they will be given any kind of bed, or given any assistance or any kind of help in this sector.  They are considered to be entitled to local housing and God only knows when they will be ever given a flat or a house.

I: Last year the Dublin Simon took over the running off the Night Bus and about 6 months into taking over it was stopped the reason they gave was the same people were using the bus day in day out and it was deemed they weren’t progressing in their homeless, what impact did this have on your service?
R: The night bus wasn’t really an issue for us as we didn’t really have a need for it, as most of our male clients are living with us, not living with us by night to night, and also it’s not running now it’s been scrapped. To people who were using it, it caused pain they would phone the service to be told to meet the bus at 10pm the bus could be late or not arrive at all. If the bus was running late and the person phoned again the bus would probably turn up at 1am, get them to a hostel, a B+B or Emergency accommodation then the next morning they would have to leave the place at 9 am or so then walk the streets all day, then repeat the whole situation again, as beds where never held.

I: Homelessness can happen to anyone at any given time, it doesn’t have to be the persons fault, there could be a fire in their old home, a flooding, etc etc. If a person’s finds themselves in this sad situation especially, if they have kids, partner and they all want to stay together, what can they do?
R: If a family with a set of parents and kids has become homeless, there is a good chance that they will all be separated. The young children will go with the mammy, and the teenagers will go to either a girl’s hostel or a boy’s hostel and the father will go to another hostel. It will cause distress, however if a family does become homeless, the local authority will re- house them rather quickly, it’s rare for a family to be held in hostels.

I: The overall cuts on peoples dole, over the past 5 or so years what kind of impact did this have on some of your tenants who live in one of your hostels, like I mean a lot of homeless people are addicted to Gear or Alcohol or both, like did it make it harder to get their weekly rent from them?
R: The cuts have caused everybody who is on income or welfare problems as one would know it’s been horrendous but that’s not even the main issue as you can see from above, eat or pay the rent

I: How does it feel to see someone overcome their homelessness?
R: Yes, it’s great to see people overcome their homelessness, their addictions etc.  Not all homeless people are on drugs or steal, there seems to be an image if you like, put on to homeless people.  People tend to think all homeless people are on this, on that, they do this, they do that, that’s not the case at all. I have met some wonderful people coming through the doors, who have then turned their life around, got a job, and started a family.
We have plenty of people who have overcome their problems one guy even set up his own construction company, during the Celtic period it’s wonderful to be able to see people turn their life’s around and get back on track, it can be done we have the proof here.

I: If a person would like to make a cash donation to your trust how would they go about it?
R: If a person wishes to donate to our charity they can by directly phoning us on 01-8555-002, or they could send directly to us at 29 Mount joy Square Dublin 1, or go online, at It was set up for out trust. It costs about €6 million a year to run our services, we are given half by the government and we have to raise the other half ourselves We would like to thank all the people who have helped us in the past, the present and a huge thank you to the people who will be supporting us in the future. Every cent adds up and we are very grateful as we are aware of the recession but the public have been very good to us.

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