Updated: Jul 10, 2020
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Sophia was delighted to be invited to take part in RTE's With You In Spirit programme. The programmes are short messages of encouragement and hope during the Covid19 Crisis. Our contribution was broadcast last Wednesday morning.
Below is the text of our presentation but to view the programme please click
Sophia was founded by Jean Quinn, a member of the Daughters of Wisdom a religious congregation, who, over 20 years ago had a simple yet radical idea, that the best response to homelessness is to provide a home with the wrap-around supports that an individual, couple or family need to break the cycle of homelessness. That idea is even more relevant today for the hundreds of people we support across Ireland.
We in Sophia are acutely aware that people who experience homelessness are often traumatized by that experience. This trauma is compounded by poverty, exclusion and neglect in its many forms.
Our vision is for an Ireland where homelessness and the trauma caused by homelessness is eradicated from our society. We understand that many people experiencing homelessness may have multiple support needs, requiring a response that places the person and their needs at the centre of what we do. This is even more significant under the current crisis as the effects of COVID-19 – isolation, anxiety, economic uncertainty, social dependency – are amplified for those who are homeless, already vulnerable and isolated, placing them at even greater risk.
It is not my place to speak on behalf of the people supported by Sophia, or on behalf of anyone who has experienced homelessness, but perhaps it is timely to ask ourselves now, as we may be experiencing a feeling of loneliness, of isolation, or a sense of uncertainty about what the future may hold - to remember this time, and the feelings we are collectively experiencing both for ourselves and for each other: to remember the supports we see in our communities and how each small act of solidarity affirms our place in it.
During this time, we are being given an insight into how experiencing this for months, even years, can take its toll on someone. It has shone a light on how we risk forgetting those on the margins – people who, in times of crisis, are impacted the most.
This is an extraordinary opportunity, to reflect on what kind of society we want to be part of or to create.
As we speak, across the country people are protecting us by caring for the sick and elderly, stacking our shelves, collecting our rubbish, cleaning our hospitals, delivering our parcels and, like our staff in Sophia, supporting those who have been socially excluded. The current situation presents new challenges for our staff as they follow guidelines to maintain social distance, but their commitment to a continuity of care, filled with warmth and empathy is unwavering.
We are privileged to be given the opportunity to provide people with homes. We do not do this in a vacuum. With our partners, both lay and religious, we act from a foundation of shared values and on this foundation we are building new homes with support across the country. Partners like UNANIMA International, who’s Executive Director is the same Daughter of Wisdom, Sr Jean Quinn, who over 2 decades ago founded Sophia. She has brought the global issue of homelessness to the heart of the United Nations and placed the voices of those who have experienced homelessness to the fore.
Working with Religious Congregations, lands and buildings which for generations were centres of the community are being made available to Sophia to build new homes for the most vulnerable. Former schools and convents are being converted, so that their doors are reopened as homes for those who need them most. The future for these buildings and the hope we have for those who will be living in them, is one worth savouring and sharing today.
As we all social distance and make daily sacrifices, we should remind ourselves that we, too, do not exist in a vacuum. We are anchored in our shared responsibilities to one another.
The Prophet Jeremiah lamented, “How lonely was his city once so full of people”. Even though our streets are now empty, we should not be saddened: this is not a sign of our loneliness, but an affirmation of solidarity and hope - of our shared love and care for one another. The two metres between myself and others is not a measure of distance but rather a measure of how much they care for me and mine, as I do for them and theirs.
It is at times of struggle that we show a shared a continuity of values, which, for generations, has steadied the hands of the past as we moved together through times of upheaval, of scarcity and of loss.
It is at times of collective adversity that our shared decency and integrity are expressed in small acts of harmony, a phone call, new WhatsApp groups, dropping shopping off to our vulnerable neighbours, a light shining in the windows.
This is a unique time, when it is not our shared traumas but the common bond of standing side by side for what is right and caring for one another that marks our identities and strengthens our communities.
This will be remembered as a time of grief and uncertainty, but may its legacy be one of empathy for those who need our support and understanding the most