WHILE there was fun and laughter at the Mid-West Simon Community’s Sleep Out Challenge, the serious issue of homelessness was lost on nobody.
Almost 100 people slept overnight at the Gaelic Grounds last Friday in a bid to raise money for the Simon Community, which exists to support people who do not have a home, or those at risk of being homeless.
The fundraiser, supported by the Limerick Leader, saw social care students from LIT take part.
Students admitted they were not really aware of how big the problem of a lack of housing is here, with figures obtained by the Limerick Leader revealing over 600 people were homeless in the city last year.
Aisling Ryan, Carew Park was part of a group of around 50 people from the college.
She said: “We have to do around 50 hours of volunteering for our course, so this is an ideal opportunity for us. We had a visit from Jackie Bonfield (of the Simon Community). She made us realise that there is a lot of homelessness we do not really know about. So it has really opened our eyes.”
O’Connell Avenue-based architect Siobhan O’Connell said while fundraising is important - she raised double the required €250 - awareness is all-important.
Reflecting on her sleep at 5am, she said: “It was very interesting. Definitely not easy. But I slept better than I thought surprisingly. It is important to raise money, but what perhaps is more important is public awareness of the problem.”
Fianna Fail TD Willie O’Dea, his party’s spokesman on social protection said the government is not doing enough to solve the homelessness crisis.
“I can see the shortage of housing in the streets myself, particularly in urban Ireland. It gives us an opportunity for people who are formulating policy about it to see it in reality. Hopefully in the process, we will raise some money. The government has not put enough money into combatting homelessness,” he said.
Labour’s northside councillor Frankie Daly, a youth worker, told of how he has seen some of his friends spiral into homelessness.
He said: “It is something that is very prevalent in Limerick City and throughout Ireland as a whole. I have seen first hand friends from my own community who have become homeless and slept out rough.”
Cllr Daly said events like these bring people closer together.
“It is also about embracing the whole idea of being human beings, and supporting each other in times of difficulty. It is about working with the weakest members of society, helping them get back on their feet and moving forward in the right direction,” he said.
Fellow councillor Maurice Quinlivan had to opt for an army bed due to a back injury sustained earlier in the year.
In particular, he notices a rise in the ‘new homeless’.
“The people now that are becoming homeless are people we knew, people we went to school with, people who we worked with, and people who simply cannot afford to pay their mortgages,” the councillor said.