Down -- but not out -- as centre offers lifeline to the 'new poor'
Aido Clarke is one of the thousands of people lost in the recession who is surviving because of the lifeline thrown by the Capuchin Order's Food Centre in Dublin city.
The 31-year-old had worked all his life until he lost his well-paid construction job two years ago.
His marriage broke up shortly afterwards and he had to move away from the family home and his five children. He quickly found himself alone on the streets of Dublin and, clinically depressed, he turned for the first time in his life to heroin.
His chief problem was the initial legal difficulties in sorting out access to his children.
"I was going around depressed; I mean, really, depressed, total depression and I could not get help.
"That's the sad fact; it was only when I started on heroin that I started to get help. Before I was on heroin, I did not get any help. I went on the methadone programme."
He has managed his own intake of methadone downwards and is on what would be regarded as the safest and most hopeful level for total recovery. "I'm great now because of this place. I get access to my kids.
"I have them Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I feed them. It costs a fortune to feed them. I don't have enough to feed them and feed myself and pay rent and ESB so I come here. I only come when I have no food at all.
"I have fixed up my transit van now and I'm hoping to get work. I have applied for a business course. I'm going round companies. The business course shows you how to make offers for work.
"I worked all my life. I was a fireplace installer and I worked in Keapac in Clonee."
He shows the FAS certification card which shows he is qualified to carry out a variety of construction jobs, from driving an excavator to operating a telescopic crane. He paid €3,000 for the FAS-recognised courses and certificates before getting well-paid work in the construction sector.
His certifications are valid until 2014. He is now in the process of finding a house to rent outside Dublin where he can better accommodate his children -- three girls and two boys -- and restart work.
Last Monday, he was one of about 500 people who called into the Food Centre for lunch. About 200 had been fed breakfast earlier.
The centre is run by staff and volunteers and still headed by Brother Kevin Crowley, who helped start the food programme in 1969 and has been working daily ever since.
As well as feeding people in the Capuchin Centre, each Wednesday they give out around 1,200 food parcels.
Br Crowley said: "When we started first, we had only about 50 people. Then it started getting bigger and bigger. Our main reason, first and foremost, was that people had nowhere to go during the day except walk the streets -- so we wanted to give them a bit of dignity and respect. At the moment, we get around 200 in the morning and 400 to 500 in the afternoon. We have nine full-time staff and the volunteers who are absolutely fabulous. People who work here are students, civil servants; and people who have retired give their time.
"Really, only for them it would be impossible for us to keep going. Our policy is we don't ask any questions.
"We feel that it is difficult enough for them coming to a place like this.
"Our main purpose is to give them respect and dignity and make them feel it's easy to come to a place and get something to eat."
The centre has showers and provides changes of clothing for those who need them.
Doctors, nurses, counsellors and social workers attend during weekdays.
Br Crowley said there has been a dramatic increase in people attending in the past two years. "In the last year, 18 months since the recession, it has increased immensely. We have the 'new poor', people on the verge who are losing their houses and who are the kind of people who must find it very difficult to come here for ordinary household foodstuffs for the week. That is a huge problem.
"We are meeting people who are very stressed, very worried about their futures: people with big mortgages and can't meet repayments. They are a huge problem."
He said that the numbers of foreigners continues to increase. "The first were the Polish. They used the place until such times as they got work, but when they were subsequently in employment, they came back and gave donations." Since the recession this source of generosity has dried up.
The centre's running costs are currently at €1.2m to €1.4m annually, of which €450,000 comes in grant aid from the Government.
The rest is raised mainly by supporters who run fundraisers. While numbers attending the centre have doubled in the past two years, the statutory funding has remained the same.
"We depend on the generosity of people. Only for that, it would be imposing to keep this lifeline for these unfortunate people," Br Crowley said.
Ways to donate to the Capuchin Day Centre:
Capuchin Day Centre,
29 Bow Street, Dublin 7
Phone or credit card or laser donations: Theresa Dolan or Brother Kevin at 01-8720770
Donate on line (credit cards only, no laser): www.homeless.ie
Direct to bank: Capuchin Day Centre, Account no 82128752, Bank of Ireland, Smithfield, Dublin 7, sort code: 90-00-92