Over the last two days almost 10,000 people ‘celebrated’ Christmas in hostels, hotels, B&Bs and family hubs across the Twenty-Six Counties. Most disturbingly, 3,800 of this number where children. This tsunami of human suffering, which was created by Fine Gael’s housing policies, is made worse by the failure of that party to provide adequate support services for those who have no home but the streets – a services gap that is increasingly being filled by volunteer citizen-led initiatives.
Among the many such groups combating the homelessness crisis is ‘Altogether Now’, an initiative set up by residents of The Liberties, with the support of Dublin 8 Housing Action Committee. Established in July 2017, the group has provided much needed support, advice, food, hot drinks and essential clothing to the homeless population of Dublin’s south inner city. The group have a very visible presence outside St Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street, setting up stall every Tuesday and Wednesday from 8pm to 10pm.
In 2018, Altogether Now’s first full calendar year in operation, the group provided 2,789 homeless people with outreach services on 102 separate nights. This year has been a busy and challenging one for all those involved.
During the ‘Beast from the East’ snowstorm at the end of February, Altogether Now were forced to cancel their regular service but instead volunteered to operate a mobile outreach vehicle in conjunction with Inner-City Helping Homeless.
The month before the snowstorm, Altogether Now highlighted the issue of Eircom removing pay phones across Dublin’s inner city. This created a huge problem for the city’s rough sleepers. This is because if an individual is not allocated a bed by 4:30pm, that person must then ring a ‘freephone’ service and wait until 10:30pm to try and secure one. A homeless person won’t be able to do this without a mobile or means to charge battery, thereby relying on public pay-phones. At present, Altogether Now are preparing to launch a campaign to achieve a 24/7, drop-in access point for hostel accommodation.
Altogether Now activist and Éirígí activist, Damien Farrell said: “Altogether Now provides food, drink and clothing, as well as a means to accessing temporary hostel accommodation to those who need it. Providing representation through advocacy for people in homeless services to acquire more secure six-month accommodation and links to addiction services in the community is another essential part of what we do. Several Altogether Now volunteers are professionally employed in addiction response in the community and bring that expertise in a non-judgmental way to our voluntary outreach.
This year, like last year, we provided several hamper vouchers and actual hampers to not only homeless people but also to struggling families across the south inner-city. We finished delivering them at 7pm on December 22nd.”
Altogether Now has achieved much this year. They helped secure permanent housing with Dublin City Council for one long term homeless man in May. This man spent last winter, which included yellow weather warnings and two periods of snow, living in an abandoned car garage. Altogether Now represented the man for a period of ten months, during that period they identified that the man had his case deferred by homeless services because he refused to take accommodation in notoriously dangerous hostels.