by Conor Kane
“We’re busy here six night a week and that’s only for an hour and a half. We feel it’s a lifeline for them.”
Those are the words of Clonmal man Dermot O’Donovan who started a Facebook page just over a month ago to gauge the level of willingness out there to help the homeless and other vulnerable people in the community and has seen that develop into the Clonmel Homeless group which now offers vital sustenance most nights of the week.
Almost as soon as he started that Facebook page, he got a huge response from those willing to help, many of whom he didn’t even know, and within a week Dermot had started up a mobile soup kitchen at the Market Place car park in Clonmel with the help of a rota of volunteers.
Thanks mainly to word of mouth, men and women who are homeless or who may have homes but haven’t got the wherewithal to buy food and other essentials started turning up from 7pm each night to avail of the free tea, coffee, soup, sandwiches, biscuits, bottled water, as well as the likes of bedding, clothes, hygiene products, and more.
“Regardless of whether they are homeless or not, there are hungry people out there,” Dermot O’Donovan explains before adding that there are also many people ready to help. “I have an A4-size page of volunteers and five addiction counsellors who are offering their services free of charge if they’re needed.”
The volunteers operate out of the back of cars, but abiding by the necessary health and safety principles as approved by the HSE, and under one of the canopies in the car park. They’re there five or six nights a week, helped out one night by a team of colleagues from Carrick, regardless of how wet or cold the conditions. And there have been some pretty cold nights since they got started but they remember how much worse living conditions are out there for many people in trouble.
Dermot blames the HSE for “driving this problem” of addiction and homelessness because of their policy of paying rent allowance to clients, rather than landlords, thus increasing the temptation for addicts to go and spend that money on drugs or drink instead of paying their rent. “It doesn’t many any sense where a system gives money to people with those problems. Landlords are dictating rents in this country and it’s wrong. There should be a cap on rents, end of discussion.”
Since the start of the Clonmel Homeless group, some nights there have been a couple of people turning up to avail, other nights six, eight, even 10 in the space of an hour-and-a-half.
One evening last week when The Nationalist was observing the voluntary work, a man and woman arrived and stayed for over an hour, enjoying the sandwiches and hot drinks, having a chat and cracking a few jokes with volunteers Dermot, John and Breda McGrath and Tom Murphy, before heading off into the night with some donated bedding and clothes. “See you tomorrow night,” were the parting words of one.
There are always at least four volunteers manning the service every night.
Now the team are appealing to the public for donations of adult clothing (not children’s) such as jeans, warm jumpers, hoodies, shoes and underwear; quilts, pillows, blankets, coats, hygiene products, toothbrushes, tea, coffee, packet soup, and bottled water.
“It’s all about helping the less fortunate,” as John McGrath says. “Everyone needs a helping hand when they’re down on their luck. Personally, I think there shouldn’t be a need for this. But there is and someone has to cater for them.”
Dermot himself has a history of organising voluntary projects, such as raising €9,500 for the local boxing club and setting up a “bits and bobs and jobs” page on Facebook, and is a believer in being pro-active when it comes to helping others.
As well as receiving a huge response from willing volunteers since the group was set up, Dermot and the others have also got direct and indirect support from many others, including Brian Weston of Weston Electrical, Eddie at the Comeragh garage in Clonmel; Eddie Reade in Carrick-on-Suir; Susan at Receptions Pre-Loved Bridal Wear at the Ormonde Centre; Texaco on Clonmel’s Cahir Road; Miss Ellie’s takeaway; Mr Bumble’s; and others.
Whether large or small, that amount of help matters, and contributes towards supporting some of the most vulnerable in our society. “There are people in flats in this town that are hungry and we know it. Regardless of whether you’re hungry or on the street, come down. That’s what we’re here for. If it’s only for a Hot Cup and some bread. Fill your belly with soup and a sandwich for an hour, have a bit of chat and a laugh. Isn’t it better than being in a flat, hungry?”
“If we can save one life out there…”said Dermot.