On June 24 1983, 35 years ago today, the Fairgreen Hostel for Homeless Men opened to tackle the growing number of young men living on the street.
Four years after the foundation of the Galway Simon Community first started its work of trying to keep people off the streets in the first place, they accepted the fact that the homeless crisis just kept escalating.
Together with the city’s Social Services Council they set up a larger scale residential option to provide a roof and beds for 15 men. The centre itself was built by the Western Health Board (one of the regional predecessors to the HSE) and a £50,000 a year was provided for the SSC and Simon Community to run it.
Looking back at RTÉ archive footage of the opening of the Fairgreen House in ’83, CEO of the Health Board Eamon Hannon solemnly warned viewers that there were now more homeless men in Galway city than the centre could provide for.
In fact, RTÉ correspondent Jim Fahy opened the report by saying that there were as many as 20 men in the city living rough (Yes, even then that folksy little phrase was doing the rounds).
35 years on, when we are unquestionably a far wealthier society, and hopefully a more caring one, those numbers sound like a pipe dream we can only strive for.
The Department of Housing’s latest report on homelessness found that during one week in April this year there were 264 in Galway who were, and no-doubt many still are, without a home.
And while there are still endemic problems with single men and women who have no homes, now its gotten to the point where we have a homeless crisis within a homeless crisis.
Children, often with one or both parents working, who still live in constant threat of losing what ever short-term-let or hotel room they couldn’t possibly want to call home.
Today the Fairgreen Hostel on Forster street is run by COPE Galway. And it does good work, don’t let me give you the impression otherwise. The 26 bed hostel can provide a temporary place of stability to help people transition to something more permanent, or it could just be shelter from the cold.
Certainly the only way our current homelessness crisis, on which a lot of air and ink (print and digital equivalent) has been spent describing, could be worse would be if these literally lifesaving shelters weren’t there.
There are plenty of services that it’s well and right to brag about expanding: schools, bus routes, bouncy castles.
But standing up and saying that Galway’s flagship homeless shelter is nearly twice the size it was when it first opened over three decades ago just indicates a long string of failures on all our parts.