Belfast Telegraph

Irish hairdresser who set up soup kitchen for homeless people slams 'backwards society'

A Dublin hairdresser became so frustrated with the number of homeless people she saw on the streets on her way home from work that she set up her own soup kitchen to help.

Keira Gill from Coolock in north Dublin set up The Lending Hand, a soup kitchen feeding up 300 people every Monday evening on the steps of the Central Bank in the city centre.

Her story features in Generation F’d, a documentary airing on RTÉ2 at 10.30pm on Thursday which takes a look at the plight of Ireland’s 25 to 35-year-olds, struggling to make ends meet and figure out a future for themselves.

Keira tells viewers: “We have about 15 volunteers and we could feed up to between 200 and 300 people on a Monday night... Not only do we feed homeless people that live in laneways, we feed families, we feed people in hotel rooms, we have people in tents that have nothing that we have to keep going. The situation is 100 times worse, definitely now, 100 times worse.”

There are so many different levels to homelessness, she tells viewers, including the hidden homeless, families, people in tents and people in B&Bs.

“I just think what’s next? There’s activism, there’s marching, there’s giving out but no-one is listening to us. I don’t even know where to go now. The society we live in is just backwards, it is totally backwards, and no wonder our youth have left to go and live their lives in other countries because the prospects here are just not there, I feel.

"Sometimes I feel like we enable people to stay in the situation that they are in because we can’t do anymore. If we could do more I would absolutely do more and I think that the Government don’t do what they are supposed to do because we are here doing what they should be doing,” she says.

Keira, who has worked as a hairdresser since she was 14-years-old, spent two years diligently saving to buy her own home only to be told that, as a single person, she was unlikely to ever own her own home in Dublin.

“I don’t see the incentive in this country for young people to get out there and try to better yourself. Why would you? Why wouldn’t you just live on the dole? This country baffles me, there is just nothing for our generation,” she tells viewers.

She is now studying community development and aims to be the female Fr Peter McVerry, no matter how long it takes.   

“It is not about getting the pat on the back and ‘fair play to you’ – they give me as much as I give them because it makes me look at life a whole different way and it makes me appreciate life, it makes me appreciate what I have in my life as well," she says.  

Viewers also meet Áine, a friend and colleague of Keira’s, who found herself homeless after her landlord sold the property she was renting.

“I was in private rental accommodation and three years ago the landlord sold the house out from under me. With rising rents I couldn’t afford to rent by myself anymore so I ended up staying with family and friends and moving around quite a lot. Last summer I ended up with nowhere to stay,” she says.

Áine had a full time job at the time and was holding it down despite facing the prospect of having nowhere to sleep.

“One thing I came up against a lot was people saying to me ‘you know you have a job, how can you be homeless?’ People just couldn’t comprehend that. I remember myself even having to ring the free phone one night because I didn’t have a place to sleep, and they said “well, you can’t be homeless if you have a job’ and I said ‘I am, I have nowhere to sleep’ and they said to me ‘where did you sleep last night’ and I said “in the back seat of a car’ and the guy on the phone said to me ‘well, aren’t you lucky to have a roof over your head’, she says.

Áine is back in private rental accommodation at the moment and volunteers with The Lending Hand. She worries still that she could end up back in the same position. 

Irish Independent

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