“I dont keep anything, I don’t have anything. I don’t need anything. Two plastic bags cover everything. That’s it.” So said Peter McVerry SJ in one of many interviews following on his invitation to the Arás to meet the President, who was marking Peter’s thirty years of service to and with homeless young people in Dublin.
President Michael D Higgins would have had a lot to talk about with Peter Mc Verry who has given most of his Jesuit life to working with the homeless, work that began on foot of a chance invitation to help out at a youth club in Hardwicke Street whilst he was a young teacher in nearyby Belvedere College. Speaking about the people he met in the youth club in an interview with Anita Guidera in the weekend review section of The Irish Independent (Saturday 25 May) he said, “They were very different from the middle-class kids in Belvedere. They wore different masks. They were very direct. If you annoyed them they you just tell you to ‘f-off’ and if they annoyed you they would expect you to do the same. I enjoyed it.”
Thirty years later, Peter McVerry is a household name, as is the Peter McVerry Trust which carries on the work with him. On foot of a lot of hard work, simple living and social campaigning there are now ten hostels in Dublin, three drug-treatment centres, ninety apartments and a drop in centre in Sherrard St where Peter is to be found working among the young homeless and many others who call in for help, coffee or a chat.
Honouring them and the people who use their hostels on Wednesday 26 June, the President said he was “deeply worried” at the rising numbers of people experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes.“Those figures add up to a great deal of misery, deprivation and very many people who are denied the safety of a place they can call home.”
Peter McVerry is universally respected for his tireless work with young people who are homeless or struggling to overcome problems such as addiction and poverty,but he is not complacent. In an interview on the Today with Pat Kenny radio programme on RTE 1, just before he headed off to the Arás, Peter told Myles Dungan that the problem of homelessness for young people was an issue that could be tackled in the morning if the political will was there.
He admitted that his work has been a struggle all the way, not because of the people he worked with but because of the authorities who never really quite get what the problems are and sometimes make them worse. And he made it clear that he would still be speaking out on behalf of homeless people as long as it was necessary to do so.
And when the President described the reception he gave as a celebration of the organisation’s work and a tribute to the energy and enthusiasm of its staff and volunteers, Peter however admitted, in an article in The Irish Times, to having mixed feelings.
“A celebration? Yes. An awful lot has happened in 30 years. But our ultimate objective was to eliminate homelessness. So, if we had been successful, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Let’s hope it won’t take another thirty years for Peter to see the fulfillment of a dream.