Dublin’s Capuchin Day Centre is working to meet increasing needs, writes Paul Keenan
Mid-way through his interview at the Capuchin Day Centre, gardai come for Bro. Kevin Crowley.
The interruption and feigned admissions of guilt become a moment of levity in an otherwise serious dealing with the ongoing work of — and need for — the centre that caters to the immediate needs for an ever-growing number of Dublin’s homeless.
In truth, and in connection with that work, the officers have come to discuss their own role with the day centre over the Christmas period (Bro. Kevin is glowing in his praise for the work of gardai¨ from the Bridewell station in relation to the day centre).
Having already spent time wrapping gifts for children who will attend the centre’s annual Christmas party (in addition to the old folks party two days later), it is happily reported that Santa’s presence at the children’s party has been confirmed through agreement with a sergeant at the Bridewell.
All too quickly, however, the everyday reality for Bro. Kevin returns and he is taking a call on behalf of one of the regular visitors to the centre, soon to be released from hospital after a period of illness.
Bro. Kevin quickly arranges for the patient’s immediate needs to be met, including a fresh set of pyjamas and slippers for the man while he convalesces.
Apparently minor issues, and yet for the day centre’s visitors, matters of great importance in a world where there are no longer any everyday certainties for many.
”I’ve not experienced anything like this since 1969,” Bro. Kevin says of the new mood abroad since the onset of the financial crisis.
”People are desperate and depressed. There is a great fear of the unknown now.”
Working no less hard for the visitors, preparing some 200 breakfasts and nearly 500 dinners each day (in addition to 1,250 food parcels made fresh daily), is the army of volunteers upon whom the process rests.
Among them is Chris Masterson, a volunteer for the past four months, involved in ”everything from cooking and cleaning to stocking food bags”.
Having had his first introduction to the centre as a second level student during a school visit, Chris saw the value of the work and volunteered when he entered college.
”It’s one of those gigs where you don’t mind going to work,” he says, describing the daily visitors as ”a great crowd. I really enjoy it.”
So much so that Chris is working right up to Christmas — when the day centre traditionally closes just for Christmas Day, making way for the RDS dinner for the homeless.
”From now to Christmas it will be all go on the hampers,” he explains, ”putting them together from donations and items we’ve ordered in. It’ll be hectic, but I love it.”
Chris’ passion for the centre comes to the fore when he presses The Irish Catholic to mention the fundraising performance by Irish rockers BellX1 at the Olympia in Dublin on December 17.
The midnight event, he stresses, will see all monies go directly to the Capuchin Day Centre.
The next generation of volunteers may well be in the making, too, with second-level student Renaldo occupying the position that Chris previously held.
On the fourth day of his two-week work experience when The Irish Catholic visits, having ”decided to try it out” when the opportunity arose, Renaldo says he is pleased to have made the choice to volunteer. ”It’s a good place, I would definitely come back.”
Summing up the draw for those taking the ‘first plunge’ towards volunteering is Tricia, now a full-time worker at the centre for 14 years.
”It’s the people who make you want to stay and help,” she says. Though she has ”seen some sights” and is sharing in the sadness of all at the centre at news of the passing of a long-time visitor (aged just 42), Tricia insists of the centre: ”I love it — love it. It’s a great job.”
That love sees Tricia — and co-worker Carmel (25 years with the centre) — start each working day at 5.30am to assist the cooks in meeting the logistical demands of the day.
None of which happens in isolation or for free.
Despite the increase in demand as the recession deepens, Bro. Kevin points out that the day centre still receives just €450,000 annually from Government.
The remainder of the €1.3m running cost, funding heating and lighting the centre, providing showers, doctor’s facilities, counselling services, optician and chiropodist all remain possible by the donations from members of the public.
Bro. Kevin insists that his thanks make up any coverage of the centre.
”A sincere thanks,” he stresses. ”It is ordinary people keeping the lifeline open for people in desperate need.” In 2011, the two categories of ‘ordinary’ and ‘desperate’ people are no longer as far removed as might be imagined.
Describing as ”outmoded” the common perception of Ireland’s homeless as any variety or combination of a mentally ill or drugs or drink dependent category, Bro. Kevin describes people arriving for parcels ”clearly embarrassed” to have to be in a position to queue for food, but not having any real alternative now.
Even the term ‘homeless’ now fails to sum up the profile of some visitors; Bro. Kevin recently took a phone call from a father, with a home, but eager to know the centre’s opening hours so he might be able to offer his children a breakfast before school.
As the recession bites, one third level college in the city has offered students the day centre’s details so students, unable to press struggling parents for funds, might at least have a hot meal.
Another institution recently discovered one of its students sleeping rough between class attendances and visiting the centre for meals.
Such are the stories now joining the daily queue at Bow Street, a wider variety than ever before, yet all linked by the appreciation for the very existence of the day centre. ”This place has a great reputation,” one visitor says, ”and more respect than you could believe.”
Among those in agreement are Alan, homeless for 18 months, who shares stories of being kicked and struck with bottles while sleeping rough, but who sums up the centre’s value in the ”ability to just come in for a cup of tea and meet other, good people”; Lukas, a Polish migrant, on the streets for three months, who has been unable to get paperwork from his former employer to access services and says ”it would be very difficult without the centre”, and Anto, a former construction worker who vividly describes the horrors of hostels he has experienced — ”that’s why so many sleep rough, because the hostels are nightmares” — and states that ”the centre is the best in Dublin. There isn’t another like it or as good.”
All visitors spoken to agree with the latter assertion and vocally back the statement by one of their number that ”there’s a respect for us here”.
Until things change, this simple fact will have to suffice for the numbers who will rely on the centre for an indefinite period yet.
Many don’t even want to consider the festive season, given the clash of the ‘jingle-bell’ image with their reality.
When asked what they will do for Christmas, one visitor shrugs and says he can only answer the question with another.
”What will I do for Christmas?”
The Capuchin Day Centre, at 29 Bow Street, Dublin 7, can be contacted at 01-8720770.