Cheering Ireland and challenging homelessness in the same breath

Rugby World Cup: Watching a match on TV normally the last thing on homeless person’s mind

In Yokohama, the Irish rugby team stood against the flowers of Scotland. In Dublin, a group of men from very different backgrounds sat shoulder to shoulder in the basement of a city-centre hotel and cheered the Irish side on a big screen on Sunday morning.

In the back row of the cinema in Brooks Hotel were rugby players and university-educated men who all had the required game patter. Many were on first name-terms with those on the pitch in Japan.

However, the front row was filled by men who were or had once been homeless and who vividly recalled their near invisibility as they walked among the wider population on big sporting occasions such as this.

The different worlds collided in harmony because of Dublin's Simon Community and Secret Street Tours, which is training homeless people to work as city guides.


Skills and confidence

Such training offers “skills and confidence to take the next step toward independent living, while offering people a channel to engage with one of Dublin’s most pressing social challenges”, says the tour company.

Ireland 7s International Harry McNulty gave a running commentary of what was happening on the big screen and pointed out the players he had lined out alongside.

Shane Howell, who was homeless for more than seven years and now works as a Secret Street Tours guide, watched the game in silence, popping out onto the street every 20 minutes or so for a nicotine hit.

On the way out for a half-time smoke, he told The Irish Times that watching any match on television is normally the last thing on a homeless person’s mind. “You have nowhere to watch them, you wouldn’t be let anywhere to watch them – that’s the reality of it,” he said.

“The order of the day is to get through the day. You do see people going to the matches and things like that but you’re just so far away from it. I think this event is good as it is bringing people together.”

The idea for the event came from Pierce Dargan, co-founder of Secret Street Tours, who saw something similar being done for clients of a homeless charity in New York for the Superbowl.

"Small gestures can sometimes go a long way, so as we all come together as a nation to support Ireland – and where Ireland have a real chance to go very far in this World Cup – I think it is an event that everyone should have the chance to enjoy.

Something special

"As a small nation we have a chance to do something special, and everyone should have the chance to be part of that," agreed Thomas Austin, the Secret Street Tours chief executive.

“The events are our small way of breaking down barriers and bringing people together while cheering on the men in green.”

Aisling Harmey of Dublin Simon Community nodded as he spoke. She pointed out that homeless people "face loneliness and isolation on a day-to-day basis".

“Sport is something that unites people and breaks down barriers,” she added, “and an event like this offers respite from these challenges and gives the opportunity for our clients to come together and watch the Irish rugby team in a safe and welcoming environment.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast