The volunteers who spend Christmas Day giving
CHRISTMAS is fast approaching and soon businesses and schools will close for the holidays -- but not everyone will spend it fireside with family and friends.
On December 25, dozens of volunteers from the Society of St Vincent de Paul will spend the day at one of the charity's 11 hostels around the country.
There are currently 300 people availing of this SVP service countrywide every night and with nowhere else to go, many of them remain with the hostels, based in Limerick, Kildare, Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Wexford, Waterford and Dublin, for up to six months at a time.
The numbers seeking help in the Dublin region have doubled since 2011.
The drop in availability of social housing has meant that those in emergency accommodation have seen their stay extended significantly, with some even living in the hostels permanently.
"Two years ago in Dublin we had 70 people in emergency accommodation nightly -- now the number of men sleeping rough has increased to 140, which for us is a very worrying sign," Albert Perris, SVP's national hostels and homes co-ordinator, said.
"The biggest problem for us is that there is nowhere for these people to move on to because there's simply no social housing available.
"Our guidance is that no one should be with us longer than six months, but the environment the country is in at the moment means that it is getting more and more problematic," Mr Perris said.
The Irish Independent has partnered with the SVP and is appealing to our readers to give the charity whatever help they can this Christmas.
"In the past, during good times, we were very fortunate to receive generous assistance from the State, but as we all know, there have been cutbacks where capital funding from local authorities is concerned," Mr Perris said.
"At the moment, we're down 25pc in day-to-day funding and going forward it will be difficult to sustain our service and even keep the hostels open. We're operating on a shoe string."
Mr Perris said that donations are vital, especially at Christmas, to ensure that the hostels can continue running an effective 24-hour service.
Occupants are offered a bed and four meals per day. Local supermarkets, bakeries and butchers have offered hampers of food to the hostels this Christmas, helping the team of volunteers to make the day as enjoyable as possible for their members.
"Although donations have been offset by the government cutbacks this year, the public has been very supportive," Mr Perris said.
There are a number of older men who have been looked after by the SVP most of their lives, due to a marriage breakdown, job loss or addiction.
"We have a hostel group in Limerick that received a corporate donation of €20,000 and occupants decided to buy a minivan with it. At the time, I was a little sceptical, but it turned out to be the best thing they ever did," said Mr Perris.
"They used it to go on day trips and one afternoon went to the beach. There was an older gentleman with (them), who has grown up in institutional settings for decades, and had never seen the sea before that day.
"He said it was one of the most remarkable days of his life. When you hear stories like that, you really see the value of the service we provide."
You can help at www.svp.ie