Cork Christians respond to the homeless crisis
(From the April - June 2017 issue of VOX.)
According to homelessness charity Focus Ireland, 7,167 people are now homeless in Ireland. The total number of people homeless rose by 25% from January 2016 to January 2017, and 1 in 3 people experiencing homelessness in Ireland is a child!
Spurred on by the transformation within her own life, Gillian Horgan was determined to respond to the crisis in Cork City by bringing hope and love to homeless people in practical and spiritual ways.
“I’m a Christian myself for eight years now,” Gillian shared. “For a long period of time, I was without hope and very broken, so I can really connect with people who are on the streets. I want them to have the hope that I have.
“Jesus is my life. He saved my life. I wouldn’t be here only for Him. He has just changed me completely from the inside out and He is still changing me. He has healed me from so much. I have no shame. I tell everybody, ‘I’m a Christian and Jesus is my Saviour.’”
After reading The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and visiting The Lighthouse, a ministry reaching out to homeless people in Dublin, Gillian felt God speaking to her and giving her a vision for a new ministry in Cork City.
With the support of her church (Good News Christian Church in Cobh) and a group of volunteers, Gillian launched “Hope for the Homeless” with a sleep-out outside Cork City Library last September. The team set up a marquee for the night and invited homeless people who would normally be sleeping rough to come inside.
“We want to embrace homeless people with love, acceptance and forgiveness and to show them love in practical ways,” Gillian explained. On the second Friday of every month, the team heads out onto the streets, where they meet up to 20 people sleeping rough. They give out food and toiletries, sleeping bags, clean cardboard and bubble wrap.
“The teams ask what people need. Sometimes a homeless person won’t leave their spot, so we will go and bring them supplies. We offer to pray for them and invite them up to the tent.”
The marquee is pitched outside Brown Thomas in Cork city centre and provides a safe place for homeless people to relax and connect with the team. “We want to bring a sense of family to the streets,” Gillian shared.
Every Saturday, the team also runs “Hope Café” in the Haven Centre. They provide a three-course hot meal for homeless people with the chance to sit and relax in a warm, friendly environment. Every few weeks, someone will come and share a testimony.
As relationships are built, the team encourages and supports people to get into rehab (if necessary) or supports them through the process of finding somewhere to live. This may mean helping to find furniture for a new home or going with them to a meeting.
“We are working to set up a 12-step programme called ‘Hope Recovery,’ and we are hoping to start that after Easter,” Gillian said.
Around 100 volunteers are now supporting Hope for the Homeless and Gillian ensures that those who go out on the streets receive proper training. “We do first aid, conflict intervention and self-defence training. Just last week, a girl overdosed in front of me and we were able to get help for her. The Gardaí are really good to us. They keep an eye out for us and we always know where they are if we need them.”
In the future, Gillian’s dream is to get a building that is open five days a week. Often, the hostels and other facilities are only open during the evening, so many are left to wander the streets throughout the day. “I want to provide somewhere like The Lighthouse in Dublin where they can come in for food, perhaps play some board games or do art classes and where we can run the Recovery course.”
“We need more Christian volunteers to come alongside and get involved,” Gillian added. “People should not be afraid. We need to go and do what Jesus did. He is the strength behind it. I really do think that the Christian church needs to step out. There are not enough Christian people doing this.
“A lot of homeless people are coming from difficult homes and they simply can’t handle it any more. Some are struggling with addiction, but there are also homeless people who are not addicts.”
While the experience on the streets can be horrendous (“I’ve had a grown man crying, saying he had been urinated on and beaten up,”) Gillian’s experience of Cork people is of generosity and kindness. “For me, Cork people are a blessing. They just want to give. I could not believe how generous the Cork people are until I experienced it for myself.”
Hope for the Homeless welcomes donations of clothing, toiletries and other supplies. Financial donations enable the team to buy whatever supplies are most needed. New volunteers are also welcome to help out on Friday nights or at the Hope Café each Saturday from 4 - 6pm.
To get in touch, visit Hope for the Homeless on Facebook.