Opinion

Saturday 20 April 2019

No room for VIPs when Pope meets the homeless

Brother Kevin warns there must be no loss of hotel beds for homeless during Papal visit, writes Alan O'Keeffe

EMBRACING: Pope Francis hugs Patriarch Bartolomeo I as he arrives to attend a prayer for peace in the Middle East at the St Nicholas Basilica in Bari, Italy, yesterday. Picture: Reuters
EMBRACING: Pope Francis hugs Patriarch Bartolomeo I as he arrives to attend a prayer for peace in the Middle East at the St Nicholas Basilica in Bari, Italy, yesterday. Picture: Reuters
Brother Kevin Crowley

Alan O'Keeffe

Pope Francis would be "absolutely appalled" if homeless people face being moved out of any hotels in Dublin during the papal visit, said Capuchin Day Centre founder Brother Kevin Crowley.

Brother Kevin said any hotel denying a homeless person accommodation because of peak demand during the Papal visit should be "boycotted" for future homeless business.

The Pope will spend time with 80 homeless adults and children at the charity centre in Bow Street in Dublin when he visits Ireland next month. The centre provides free meals and assistance to hundreds of people every day.

"Pope Francis is a man of simplicity. He will show love, compassion and kindness when he meets privately with people who sleep on the streets and with families who have no homes," said Brother Kevin.

"He will meet many homeless mothers and children here at the centre. The older children are really excited to be meeting the Pope," he said.

No VIPs, nor dignitaries, will be invited to attend the Papal encounter with Dublin's poor.

He said the homeless people who will meet him have spoken warmly of the Pope. They declared: "He's a man for us."

An influx of visitors to Dublin during the visit of the Pope on August 25-26 will see demand for hotel rooms spike.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive has stated it will pursue all alternatives for emergency accommodation for people who become newly homeless but families already in hotels are not expected to be affected.

Campaigners said homeless families in some hotels have been told during busy summer seasons they have to move out because of pre-bookings.

Brother Kevin, now aged 83, has been working since 1969 in providing free meals for people hit by poverty.

"The last recession was worse than all the other recessions. When we opened in 1969, we had 50 people coming to the centre. Now we've 200 to 300 coming for breakfast and 500 to 600 or more coming for dinner every afternoon.

"We've been hearing the recession is over. Certainly, we don't see it," he said.

"We have mothers with children coming in and we've a special place set aside for them.

"My biggest concern and my biggest worry is the number of mothers and children going to hotels in the evening time. The only food they would have is what we would give them leaving here.

"It's an absolute and utter disgrace that, in 2018, we must have mothers and families queuing up on a Monday for baby food and baby nappies.

"My real concern is that nobody should be going into hotels. The Government should provide proper accommodation for the people in need.

"The millions of euro in State money they are pouring out to hotels is appalling. That money could have built many houses for homeless people.

"The use of hotels is not dignified for homeless people because there are times when they are put out if the hotels decide to and then these unfortunate people have to go around looking for accommodation again.

"I would call it an absolute scandal if hotels are using the Pope's visit to put people out to make accommodation for others.

"I would appeal to the Government and the homeless agency to prevent such a thing happening. And if it does happen, they should boycott the hotels in future.

"They should get proper accommodation for the people rather than allowing the hotels to call the shots.

"One thing for certain, Pope Francis would be absolutely appalled if they will use the Pope's visit in such a way," he said.

The authorities must ensure homeless families will not have to walk the streets looking for accommodation, he added.

"The number of young people I meet, they are saving to buy a house to get married and they are finding it absolutely impossible.

"I think the whole housing situation is in a huge crisis. Unless the Government decides to face up to this problem, we are going to have more people who are homeless, more people on the breadline, and we are going to have more people coming to a place like ours," he warned.

It costs around €3.3m a year to run the centre and €450,000 of that comes from the State.

"Only for the generosity of the Irish people there is no way we could continue. The donations are brilliant but we also need the prayers of the people and we trust in the good Lord," he said.

He indicated that affording people the dignity and respect they deserve is central to the message of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose example inspires the work of the Capuchin Order.

He said the centre's work is close to the heart of Pope Francis who speaks regularly of the necessity to reach out to the poor.

The Pope took action to help the homeless in Rome, including providing meals and shower facilities. At the Capuchin Day Centre, around 30 people use its two shower units and are provided with a change of clothes.

The centre's services for the homeless include a full-time nurse. Volunteers who make regular working visits include a doctor, a dentist, an optician, a chiropodist, and a group of barbers.

"Pope Francis has shown that he is with the poor and the downcast. He's a breath of fresh air. He's a man of great compassion and love. We will experience that during his visit," he said.

Brother Kevin was grateful Archbishop Diarmuid Martin facilitated the Pope's visit to the centre. The visit honours the work being done at the centre and it honours the people who use the centre and those who work there, he said.

None of the people who turn up for food and assistance each day are questioned or made to feel awkward.

He said: "There was one particular time that a lady drove up in a car and I happened to say to her: 'If you can afford a car, do you need to come to a place like this for food?'

"So, she burst out crying and she brought me to the car and said 'This is where I am living. This is my home for my child. My husband is beating the daylights out of me'. She showed me her hands and feet. They were bruised and battered.

"And from that day to this, I'm never saying to anybody 'Why do you come here?'. Our main concern is for the dignity and respect of each person."

Sunday Independent

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