‘When you are cre­at­ing you are no longer a vic­tim’

Dublin Si­mon runs art and cre­ative writ­ing classes. For par­tic­i­pants, it’s all about be­long­ing

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Lifestyle - Sylvia Thomp­son

Home­less­ness is not just about not hav­ing your own bed to sleep in at night. It is also about not hav­ing a com­mu­nity of peo­ple whom you feel safe with, peo­ple who will look out for you, and who you en­joy spend­ing time with.

Aware of this ba­sic need for so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties for peo­ple liv­ing on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety, Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity run arts and crafts, cre­ative writ­ing and com­puter classes in Dublin. Dance classes and open mic nights are also held in venues around the city cen­tre. Each year, the or­gan­i­sa­tion pub­lishes Scrappy But Happy, a col­lec­tion of po­etry and art­works cre­ated by those who par­take in these events.

In 2018, for the first time, an ex­hi­bi­tion of these art and po­etry pieces was held at Tem­ple Bar Gallery, Dublin, and some of those who par­took spoke to The Ir­ish Times about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Pa­tri­cia Phe­lan lives alone in the north-in­ner city Dublin. “I joined the [Si­mon Com­mu­nity] so­cial club. It’s a great ser­vice and they give you hot drinks, sand­wiches and cakes. The peo­ple are very nice and if you are on your own, they will come and talk to you,” she says.

Phe­lan proudly tells us her dance group per­formed in a dis­used build­ing in the Castle­forbes In­dus­trial Es­tate as part of the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val. She says she knows lots of peo­ple who live on the streets. “I hang around the mar­gins as my place isn’t great. I feel safer where I live in Sum­mer­hill than I would in Ranelagh or Rath­mines. There is hon­our among thieves and I work hard to keep well,” she adds.

Ana Martinez tells me she came to Ire­land as an au pair and when the fam­ily she was work­ing for could no longer af­ford to keep her, she had nowhere to live. Orig­i­nally from Mex­ico, she chose to come to Ire­land be­cause she has a 15-year-old son who lives here with his Ir­ish fa­ther. “I’m lucky in that I was never on the streets. I found a place to sleep every night and I now live in a hos­tel.

“I first went along to the Si­mon Com­mu­nity soup runs and then lit­tle by lit­tle I got in­volved in the so­cial club. It has a very cosy at­mos­phere,” she ex­plains.

‘Very spir­i­tual’

Martinez says she en­joys the cre­ative writ­ing classes and an art and na­ture work­shop held at Air­field Farm in Dun­drum. For the ex­hi­bi­tion in the Tem­ple Bar Gallery, she cre­ated a wall-hang­ing from wool and re­li­gious trin­kets. “Getting peo­ple to do artis­tic things is very spir­i­tual. You be­come the cre­ator and you are no longer a vic­tim when you do these things,” she says. Martinez also works 20 hours a week at the Si­mon Com­mu­nity detox cen­tre, on a com­mu­nity em­ploy­ment scheme.

Noel McKenna goes along to the so­cial club in Dublin on Mon­day and Wed­nes­day nights. “We play bingo. We sing and play mu­sic and have tea and cake. The com­pany is good,” he says. McKenna was home­less years ago but now lives in a sin­gle room near Tem­ple Street Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal. “I know quite a lot of peo­ple who are on the streets. It’s a lot harder to get a home now. I keep in good health. I cy­cle, swim, climb moun­tains and run if I have to.”

Anna West works in the par­tic­i­pa­tion and de­vel­op­ment team at Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity. She runs a lot of the lit­er­ary and per­sonal de­vel­op­ment cour­ses for clients, who are re­ferred to Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity through sup­ported hous­ing ser­vices.

“These classes give struc­ture to peo­ple’s lives. Many of them live in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. We have around 18 peo­ple from all age groups who come along to the dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties,” she ex­plains.

She says there is a ther­a­peu­tic value be­hind the ac­tiv­i­ties.

“It is a holis­tic ap­proach to learn­ing. When you par­take in a cre­ative, calm class, you can feel re­laxed and you can build your con­fi­dence. It’s a safe en­vi­ron­ment and some of the clients go on to do main­stream col­lege cour­ses af­ter­wards. It’s a way of en­gag­ing peo­ple who didn’t know they wanted to do.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TOM HO­NAN

Artists Donal Mo­ran and John Adam pic­tured with their paint­ings at the launch of the Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity Ex­hi­bi­tion.

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