December 20: Debt we owe to those who care for the homeless

The tragic events in Dublin and Cork in recent weeks, which saw homeless drug users die the saddest of deaths, resonated throughout the whole country and quite naturally led to questions closer to home in Limerick. On Monday, city-based councillors were told that there is no evidence of people sleeping rough here. That is not to suggest it never happens, but – unlike in the capital – we do not have people regularly sleeping in doorways, a distressing sight in the depths of winter.

The tragic events in Dublin and Cork in recent weeks, which saw homeless drug users die the saddest of deaths, resonated throughout the whole country and quite naturally led to questions closer to home in Limerick. On Monday, city-based councillors were told that there is no evidence of people sleeping rough here. That is not to suggest it never happens, but – unlike in the capital – we do not have people regularly sleeping in doorways, a distressing sight in the depths of winter.

There was a robust debate at City Hall with Cllr Sean Lynch, a former garda detective, particularly vocal on the subject. Anyone who has looked in detail at the archives of the Limerick Leader and Limerick Chronicle will know that lively debates on matters such as this have always been a feature of council life and sometimes these meetings have been characterised by an insistence that perceived problems have been exaggerated. On occasion there has been a refusal to accept the less palatable realities.

In this instance, while Cllr Lynch should be commended for airing his concerns so vigorously, there is welcome evidence that Limerick has enough facilities and spare beds in place to drastically reduce the possibility of somebody dying during the night, while exposed to the elements. A former mayor, Cllr Maria Byrne, pointed out that five years have passed since a homeless person died on the streets of Limerick, whereas previously such fatalities happened more than once in a year, on average.

This week’s Leader includes interviews with many people in the front line of providing care for vulnerable people who have found themselves homeless in our city and county.As the St Vincent de Paul’s drop-in centre manager Tom Flynn says, problems in early years are overwhelmingly the reason why people end up at his door.

There are sad stories in our special feature on pages 6-7 but also uplifting ones, including that of Liz O’Sullivan, who lost her way after the traumatic death of her 16-year-old daughter, Shauna.

In the Mid-West Simon Community, Liz found an organisation that understood why she was where she was and helped her back on her feet.

Only a small minority of the local population plays an active part in helping the homeless, but many of us, thankfully, remember that they need funding and support, especially at this time of year.

While nobody should be complacent about this situation, we should all be grateful that Limerick has enough facilities – and enough good, caring people – in place to cope, for the moment.