THE IRISH SUN
Before getting properly involved in the charity that earned her a commendation from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, like many people, Ann Birney said she could turn a blind eye to people on the streets
Birney told the Irish Sun: “Before, I’d see homeless people on the street and I probably wouldn’t have given a huge amount of thought to it, other than feeling for someone who finds themself in that situation.
“Like most people I had made the presumption that they were being looked after in some way, that there was some organisation that was helping them.
“I soon came to realise the more I was talking to people in the organisation and people who had been touched by homelessness in their own lives, that’s not actually the case.”
ICHH operates as a frontline outreach service, with a primary walking team that sets out at around 11pm and works to support the homeless until the early hours of the morning.
The walking team operates five nights a week, and a van goes further afield outside the city centre area seven nights a week.
The charity provides people in need with staples of living including toothbrushes, washing essentials, deodorant and items of clothing like underwear, socks, women’s sanitary products, hats gloves and scarves for the wintertime.
As volunteer coordinator, Ann is in charge of recruiting volunteers, coordinating training, rostering and working on volunteer appreciation.
She says that compassion for people who do not fit in a certain box is essential to assist those in most need of help.
She said: “There are people that fall through the cracks and people who can’t navigate what they need to do to get the services that they need.
“Maybe they don’t understand or they go around it the wrong way or they just have a fear of forms or something very fundamental.
“That made me think, anything could happen, I could find myself in that position tomorrow.
“I’m lucky enough that I’m not and I’m lucky enough that my own children are fairly clued in, that they have jobs, but it could have been so different.
“That made me realise that there’s definitely something that needs to be done here and hopefully I’ve contributed in some small way to make that happen.”
Ann says that the job can be demanding, with long hours and flexible shifts, but there needs to be a bridge between all the volunteers in the force in order to keep the organisation running smoothly.
She added: “ICHH is the kind of place where I could be sitting at the computer doing emails and then end up going down to do sandwiches, or a few times I’ve gone on outreach last minute because people have been sick. We all pitch in when we need to, that’s the kind of operation that we have.”
Ann began working with the organisation almost four years ago, shortly after retiring from working in the Central Bank.
She continued: “I had just had an operation on my knee and I was housebound. My daughter was involved here and I said I’d be interested in doing some of the admin work and that’s how I got involved.”
“Within a short amount of time I was mobile again and was able to drive, I was just hooked at coming into the office at that stage. So it kind of snowballed from there, the volunteer coordinator position came up the following year and I’ve been here ever since.”
She describes ICHH as a small but committed organisation.
Ann said: “We have people who come in and sort donations, we have a small warehouse now that we acquired earlier this year and we do a lot of our sorting from there.
“Anything that we can’t use, we give it to someone who can, like women’s refuges, the after schools projects in the local area so we support them as well.”
The charity also welcomes donations from local businesses.
Ann said: “Sometimes we would get donuts donated or fruit donated things like that.”
“We’ll always make sure we have chocolate and sweets because people who are in addiction will crave sugar and they will always look it so we always make sure we have those.”
Ann urges anyone who is interested in volunteering to come out and experience what reality is like before making up your mind about people on the streets.
She said: “See for yourself before you make a judgement on what other people are doing. You have to see it for yourself to understand and to realise what’s happening out there.”