Wasting Time with People – an Introduction

From: Professor Mary McAleese

When Alice Leahy asked me to write the introduction for Wasting Time with People? to re-launch it on Trust website I was forced to sit down and think afresh about that precious dimension that clocks and watches measure. Time. Past, present and the future…..a limitless thing, yet such a limited quantity in each day and in each human life span.

Charles Darwin left us with more than the theory of evolution. He philosophised that the human being “who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. In Trust, Alice has defined that philosophy and put it to work with the endurance of the long-distance runner. In the process, she and her colleagues have not wasted a single hour in retrieving strangers from loneliness and despair and introducing them to hospitality, offering a daily reprieve from the brutality of street life in the non-judgemental, tolerant, spotless sanctuary beneath the Iveagh Hostel in Dublin.

Complicated questions require complicated responses and there are few issues more knotty and intricate than homelessness. Complex factors combine to present us with this real and immediate and persistent problem. I have heard Alice counsel so eloquently against simplifying the question — and heard her advise on the potential response. In a time when homelessness was attributed to an individual’s private problems, Alice argued that powerful societal factors such as poverty, social exclusion and unemployment can join with personal issues like relationship breakdown, mental health problems and debt to push people out of the structure that we know as “home”.

So she opened these doors to those sleeping rough, staying in squats, staying in emergency hostels or refuges, bed and breakfast accommodation on a temporary basis, staying temporarily with friends or family because they have nowhere else to go.

Alice looked — in her own words — “at the broken, vulnerable outsiders in our society”. And she saw the struggle behind each homeless face. “More than most, because we meet the victims every day, we know how devastating the failure to give time to others can be”,she said. So, from the mid-Seventies, she has been implementing Darwin’s philosophy, and listened in this daily place of refuge to excluded people. Under her guidance, caring for the personal and human needs of the marginalised is the central tenet of Trust’s existence.

She and Geraldine share this intuitive nature, combining the wisdom of Solomon and Moses, to assess — not judge — each man and woman who comes through the doors of Trust. They work in a rhythm, measuring each level of human misery at a glance. Years of caring for homeless, unwanted persons has not dulled their concern….they still compassionately relate to the anguished and the impoverished . They are still curious about the human condition, in all its deep complexity and they also know the awesome power in a life of unconditional love.

It is the most remarkable form of generous giving by women who are exposed to risk to their own personal security as well as to disturbing images of life on the street. For most of us, it is difficult to understand how they seem so gloriously unburdened by the weight of their work. What extraordinary compassion it takes to do this – to wash and care for the feet of strangers that have trodden city streets for weeks, unbathed? To find them clean clothes? To give them dry towels and provide them with showers? To be advocates on their behalf? To give them time?

Trust doesn’t lay down canons or criterion, decrees or directions but it does have simple order and an unwritten, unspoken expectation of certain behaviour within its walls. The women who run Trust ooze authority but never superiority. And their daily visitors, in this temporary bolt hole, recognise the calm and calming custom and practice at Trust and, by and large, are thankful for it.

In highlighting the need to give time to others, Alice has again gathered friends and people from all walks of life around her to write down their thoughts on Wasting Time With People? She was inspired to entitle the first edition of this book by the words of an African bishop who chided Europeans for their obsession with projects and budgets rather than with time. Take the time to read them and you will, I am sure, enjoy their varied contributions and perspectives.

At Trust, people are people — not statistics. And it is time that is truly precious, not money. Time well spent.

From: Carl O’Brien, Chief Reporter, Irish Times

“When you talk with people who are homeless, one of the biggest obstacles you hear isn’t necessarily the lack of support to deal with personal difficulties, insufficient resources to get by, or even a place to call home.

Often, the biggest hurdle is simply feeling judged.
Even within many of the services designed to meet their needs, those who are homeless are often forced to navigate through a maze of bureaucracy, invasive questioning and institutional apathy.

At Trust, all of is this absent. They come from all parts of the city – from hostels and squats, parks and pavements – to spend an hour or so with people who do not judge. They offer care, support and – most importantly of all – time.

This philosophy lies at the heart of Wasting Time With People? It reminds us of the need to cater to those who don’t fit in; the round pegs in square holes; the people who all too easily fall through the cracks. Not because it’s their fault – but because the system itself doesn’t respond to their individual needs.

We as a society can learn much from this. This should be required reading for policy-makers and practitioners in education, healthcare politics, the workplace – all aspects of life where we can help people reach their full potential.”

From: Professor Aidan Halligan, Director of Education, University College London Hospital

“Wasting Time with People?” is an anthology of love prose. There is no greater gift any human being can offer another than to consciously decide to invest their greatest limited resource, time, in a shared coming together with another person. Time spent is trust gained and understanding enhanced. Each of the writers in this compilation celebrates the wasting of time with people and validates, through shared intuition and instinct, a universal truth that is seldom shared. Whether in a doctor’s surgery, a prison cell, a hospital bed, an evening meal, or a walk along a canal bank, time “wasted” with others is always an investment in the human spirit and is a gift beyond measurable value. Alice Leahy’s elegant bringing together of the many fractals of this truth is a life affirming read.

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