Experiments · Jesuit life · Reflection

The Long Experiment: Working with Men and Women who are Homeless at the Peter McVerry Trust

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: For the Greater Glory of God

My first day at the Peter McVerry Trust ‘Streets to Home’ drop-in centre was a microcosm of many things that were to come over the following three months. It was intense, I was out of my comfort zone and I found my decision to enter religious life under vocal scrutiny from my new acquaintances. The Streets to Home drop-in centre users found the idea of a young man (the same age as many of them) training for the priesthood in 2017, as bizarre – and I was told as much! The following three months would see me ‘share the journey’ with these homeless men and women as they sought to end their addictions, find permanent accommodation and rediscover the purpose in their life, whether it came in the form of employment, training, family or community.

The centre itself is based in the north-side of Dublin’s city centre and provides a place for local people in need. The staff are trained to ‘link-in’ with those coming to the centre, directing them to meetings with trained counselors, rehabilitation or local training programs. They also help people find accommodation (often a bed in a nearby hostel) and provide teas, coffees and sandwiches throughout the day. Although I ‘mucked-in’, helping out the brilliantly caring and patient staff if they needed it, my main role was not to work, it was to be present. For all the services provided I realized that providing a sense of community, a place where women and men who are also homeless can socialize and listen to others – and be listened to – was often the most important thing that happened here.  Within days I had heard stories of suicide attempts, sexual and physical abuse. I saw stab wounds and rat bites, and learnt more about the destructive effects of alcohol and drugs than I had ever known possible. I had also had many great laughs, shared jokes and took part in sing-alongs.

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Last Day Goodbyes

From the off I was struck by two great strengths of the Peter McVerry Trust. First of all, when visiting another help centre, a ‘youth café’ equipped with computers, colourful modern furnishings, meeting rooms and friendly staff, I saw how the underlying mantra was to treat men and women who are homeless with the dignity and respect they aren’t afforded by others. This brings humanity to the project and replaces the dehumanisation these people have often faced in their lives. They may be treated as second-class citizens in the city’s streets or courtrooms and brushed to the margins of society. But not here. Instead, bright surroundings and warm welcomes were offered. It was telling to see the men and women coming to the centre ‘rise up’ to the cafe and treat the building with great respect.

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PMVT’s wonderful staff

This hidden message of humanity goes along, hand in hand with the other strength I saw: that of mercy. Unlike many other homeless services, the PMVT operates a ‘no barring’ policy. What I saw over the three months I spent in the drop-in centre was how this gives such a powerful message to those who come in: whatever mistakes you have made, we will not turn our back on you. For people who have gone through one rejection and exclusion after another, this is such a powerful message.  I felt it a great testimony to the never-ending mercy that God offers us in our lives and one of the Trust’s most powerful witnesses to the faith of its founder, Fr Peter McVerry SJ .

Laus Deo Semper: Praise God Always

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Peter McVerry SJ
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