TERENCE O’NEILL: Helping Our Homeless

Part One

Terence O’Neill is a proud Waterford man, with a deep love of his city and county.
During his 64 years he has worked in Waterford Crystal and on the sporting scene he has enjoyed success in many different disciplines.
Yet in the past number of years he has been totally devoted to the Men’s Hostel in Waterford which is run by the St Vincent de Paul.

Terence O'Neill: committed to helping the homeless and disadvantaged of our city.

Terence O'Neill: committed to helping the homeless and disadvantaged of our city.

Terence has seen just about everything there is to see during his tenure in the hostel and thankfully he has seen a lot of improvements during that time but needless to say he has also witnessed some extremely sad events down through the years.
One of the major social topics, both locally and nationally, has been homelessness and Terence was at pains to explain just what that term means in reality.
“Sometimes you have to qualify just what homelesness is,” he said. “There are two types of homelessness. If you are without shelter and you are, let’s say, sleeping on someone’s couch in their home, you are deemed homeliness because it’s not your home. It belongs to someone else.
“Then you have people who are rough sleepers and there was a number of people like that who slept out over the Christmas period in the city and during the first three months of the year and that is not a nice thing to see.
“Having said that, when you compare Waterford with cities like Dublin, Limerick and Cork we are not in the same league at all and that’s good so you just have to weigh up all the facts and figures when you speak about the current situation.
“We work very hard to very hard to try and prevent what is happening in other parts of the country. What we do have, however, is people coming in from other parts of the country and sleeping rough here and that is a big problem.
“The government have been found wanting and they need to tackle the problem nation wide very, very soon.”
Terence continued: “I can recall one particular occasion during my early days in the St Vincent de Paul when a young woman with three children and she was living in a flat in O’Connell Street and I managed to get her a house in Cannon Street and one day I called up to see if she was settling in.
“She was standing at the sink crying but she was crying tears of happiness because she was looking out at her children playing in the back garden and it’s simple things like such as that make our work so worthwhile.”
He added: “We simply have to do our best and try and make sure that those people less fortunate than ourselves are cared for. In years past, if someone became homeless, it was mainly due to an addiction of some sort but that has changed in recent times and many people are at the mercy of their landlord.
“If they come along and say ‘oh, by the way, I’m increasing the rent by €400 a month’, what is that person supposed to do ? The majority of people are living week to week, month to month and that is a fact and then you have to take the situation of the children into account.
“If they have to leave with their parents then they have to leave the school there are in and their confidence is destroyed so there is a massive amount of facts to be taken into account. People can die and sometimes other people would not even know they have died and that fact was brought home to me this year when a young man who was in the hostel with us passed away.”
Terence stated: “He had mental issues and he left us for a while. We didn’t know where he was and then one day I saw him passing by the hostel but he just kept on walking and early this year I got a telephone call from his mother who informed me that he had taken his life by suicide over Christmas and she asked if we had a photograph of him. Now isn’t that sad. Not one member of his family had a photograph of the unfortunate young man.”
Terence, his voice creaking with emotion, told me: “She did have photographs of him when he was very young but not one photograph of him in his latter years.”

“You have to weigh up
all the facts when you
talk about homelessness.”

He then spoke about another extremely sad case that he came across some time ago. “There was a young man who was a very good footballer and he actually got capped at schoolboy level for Ireland.
“He went to England for trials with English League clubs but fell into bad company and began dabbling with drugs and when he came back he continued with the drugs and then he began stealing and so on.
“One day and I was having a bit of banter with him because he was a Spurs fan and I am a Liverpool supporter and then that night I got a call to tell me he wasn’t well and he had gone in to hospital.
“I told them to keep him in hospital and not to leave him out but they did allow him out and he stayed with us that night in the hostel and I got the staff to watch him all around the clock during the night. I came in a 7am and I found him hanging from the ceiling and it was the most harrowing sight I have ever seen.
“I had to tell his mother what had happened and the crying of that woman will remain with me for the rest of my life. No parent should have to go through something like that and that is why we must keep talking about mental health and get it out there.”
The success of the High Hopes Choir has blown Terence over. "It's been fantastic." The High Hopes Choir has been hugely successful and Terence freely admits it has given a lot of people a new lease of life.
“I received a call from Dublin three years ago and a girl called Trish Carroll of Tyrone Productions said they were coming down to talk because RTE were coming down to record a programme with a guy called Dave Brophy and it would feature people who are homeless and around 30 people would be required.
“She told me they would want 15 from the hostel and I never thought we would get that amount – but we did and it’s been amazing. Lots of people watched the TV show over Christmas and it’s been incredible, it’s really got into people’s hearts.
“The choir has sung at Electric Picnic and international rugby games and have won awards too – it’s been absolutely amazing. We go into schools, old people homes and so on so they are bringing joy into peoples’ lives.”
Next week: Terence speaks about his life in sport, how his son Barry created history on one occasion in the All Ireland Pitch and Putt Championship – and much more on the men’s hostel.

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