Street Pastors making cities safer

Street Pastors making cities safer

“Sometimes you come across a young girl or guy sitting in the street, unable to get up, and you think what if that was my son or daughter. I would not want someone mindlessly stepping over my child,” reflects the Coordinating Director of Street Pastors in Cork, David Hoey.

For many, when out at night, the wellbeing of those we pass on the street scarcely cross our mind. If we see someone on the side of the street, we do not wonder how they may get home, if they will get home safely, or get home at all. For Street Pastors, this is their mission.

David Hoey joined Street Pastors five years ago, after being involved in Mustard Seed, where they would go out on a Monday night and bring food and sandwiches to homeless people they would see along the river. But over time, larger organisations and agencies became more diligent about the city’s homelessness.

“I felt that there were others around, such as Simon Community, that were bringing food and shelter, but there was no one in the streets talking to people. That is the difference. There was no one in the streets after the club’s closing time.”

Street Pastors began in 2003 in London, and strives to train street and prayer pastors, who go into the streets at night to listen, care, and help anyone who needs help. Street and prayer pastors are composed of volunteers who go through an intense training process.

“The training happens over a period of time, where we go through practical training, such as how to engage with people, how to show respect, and learning the ethos of the Street Pastors. On the street team, you never knew what the night would be like,” David says.


“There was a need to engage spheres of society with the Gospel. Those who went in the streets and engaged with people were doing something different because none of them were up-in-your-face type of speakers or preachers, they could be evangelistic in an approachable and relatable context.”

Street Pastors breaks from the norms and standards of other organisations that help those on the street as they do not exist to provide or hand out food to the homeless. Rather, Street Pastors are readily available and search for those in need of someone to talk to, and provide any kind of care they can that is needed in that moment.

David Hoey outlines how a typical night for the Street Pastors unfolds: “We meet in a cafe in Cork usually, at around 10pm. We then break into teams, a prayer team, base team, and street team, all connected by mobile phone. Then we sit down and plan the night, where to go, set a routine, and get people ready. We have time for a small prayer that covers the night.

“We pray for the Gardai, peace in the city and pray against violence and aggression. Then we go out in uniform, and the uniform is actually extremely important. When people see someone in uniform, people are more comfortable going up to them. Each volunteer carries a first aid kit, flip flops, hand brush and dust bag to sweep up glass and lose bottles, and lollipops.”

David notes how the lollipops are crucial to many Street Pastors’ success: “When offered a lollipop, it tends to break barriers. All of a sudden, everyone is a kid again.”

There is an extremely strong emotional aspect to the Street Pastors’ mission. Their intention is not to, “explain the Gospel to people,” as David Hoey points out, even though there is a deeply religious grounding in the foundation and functioning of the Street ‘Pastors’. The intention is to engage, talk to and help those who may be in a compromising physical or mental state.

There is no time limit put on how long someone can talk to a Street Pastor. Some nights a volunteer may talk to only one person for hours on end; every person and every life is looked after and has the utmost importance. There are no requirements or standards to meet in order to talk to or request a Street Pastor for help — there is no need too small to want to talk to a Street Pastor. In fact, those may be the most important times.

Street Pastors are there if you are out with friends and have had too much to drink, and need help getting home. Other times, Street Pastors play an even more crucial role. David remembers: “One night there was a fellow who had too much to drink, and it was a relative’s anniversary of when they had taken their own life. This fellow himself was considering taking his own life, and it was the Street Pastor he was talking to that helped him through this.”


Anne Fitzgibbon, a volunteer with Street Pastors who has been involved since the organisation’s early years in 2012, notes that her own faith was a strong reason why she felt so drawn to Street Pastors. Anne recalls: “There were a couple of different reasons why I joined. My faith would be an important one, as it is extremely important to me. It defines who I am, and what I do. On that basis, I also feel that Jesus would spend a lot more time out with people, rather than behind closed doors.”

Anne also reiterated the emotional and personal connection that many who work with Street Pastors feel: “I have three children, as well as nieces and nephews. I understand that people do get vulnerable, and may have had too much to drink. But if that was my child, I would want to protect them. I wouldn’t want them to be on their own late at night, with so few safe options to turn to. There are very few people around at that time who can help. It can be hard to take responsibility.”

The training for becoming a volunteer operates along practical lines, Anne pointed out. “We have to be ready to respond to any situation we come across. There is a lot of role play with different scenarios. This gives you the skills you need to feel prepared. We practice different scenarios for what could happen at night, and go over what we can and cannot do. Above all, in extremely dire situations, we do not want to be a hinderance to the people of the Garda or the ambulance personnel who have an official role. We want to make sure we don’t get in their way. Based on what we do, our primary function is caring for the person on the street, if our help is needed, which is not always. If we see a vulnerable person, we ask what we can do to help, but if they say no we must respect their boundaries.”

First aid training is also regarded as a highly important tool, and Anne points to the role those who are trained play within each team: “A lot of us are trained in first aid and occupational first aid. Although not everyone has to be trained in first aid, every team has to have one person who is trained within the team.”

The teams that are so integral to the functioning and carrying out of the Street Pastors’ mission are structured in terms of numbers. Anne describes: “The teams are made from a certain number of volunteers, with the idea that you don’t have to go out more than once a month. In each team, there is a team leader, someone trained in first aid, and at least one or two others. There is a minimum of three people for each team.”

When asked what an average night was like, similar to what David has said, Anne believes that summarising a typical night would not be fitting. “There is no typical Saturday night, because they all truly can be so different. We have been going out in Cork for the last five years, and we can go out on one Saturday night where people can be so thankful. They will come up to us and thank us for helping one of his or her friends, or we can go out and people ask us who we are and what we are doing. The variation is really amazing.”

Anne also points to an important shift in the culture on the streets from when Street Pastors first started in Cork to now: “Certainly since when we used to go out in the beginning, from my perspective, we would have seen a lot more aggression on the street. Thankfully, in the past five years, this has seemed to decline. At the outset, there were a lot more arguments and more fights, and now we don’t see as many.”

Another integral facet to the success of Street Pastors, who also operate in Dublin and Belfast, is the relationship with the Garda. “Our relationship with the Garda is one of support and respect around the fact that we really do have very different roles. We would have had some training with the Garda to enhance our relationship with the public and those in need as well.

“When we were first established, there was definitely some thought that we would be here today and gone tomorrow. But because we have stayed and been consistent the past five years, there is more trust from the Garda. Still, we are very conscience that we do not want to get in their way.”

Both Anne and David convey that the Street Pastors are here to serve a greater purpose, and it is a purpose that is truly selfless.

“Many people ask if we belong to one specific Church, but we don’t,” David says. Street Pastors act from the foundation of caring and love that grounds all Churches and spirituality, and work to dismiss any judgement, and to offer solace and aid.