Ailish joined the newly expanded COPE Galway Day Centre Outreach Team in December 2021. We caught up with her to hear about her experience volunteering with the team delivering far more than just hot drinks to Galway’s homeless rough sleepers.
Q: What did an average volunteer morning look like for you?
Every Monday I woke at half six, cycled up to the GoBus area, and Dave (Byrne, Advocacy and Policy and Outreach Service worker) and I would collect water, teas, coffees and supplies from the (Fairgreen) hostel. We’d start at about 7 on the same route around town every time. Because of that, you get to know people, whether they’re going to say yes or no, or what they want: some of them want 10 sugars with their coffee and stuff like that! You do the same thing to build up a routine and to build trust, I guess. It wouldn’t normally take more than an hour, then I’d cycle back home and start work!
Q: Have you learned anything that surprised you in your role?
I don’t think I realised that homeless people are actively trying all the time to get on to social housing lists, and how difficult it is to get a house, even when you are on the streets!
Dave told me about one guy, he filled out the form but something in it wasn’t right, and he had to start all over again. He was living in a tent, and it was just ridiculous! You hear the rhetoric ‘homeless people don’t want houses and they don’t want to work,’ and in reality, they’re trying all the time.
Q: Tell us about a favourite moment
Maybe not a favourite ‘moment’, but another one of the things I really liked about the volunteer work was observing how easily Dave would chat with people, having become familiar with their history and situation through seeing them regularly. It was very encouraging and nice to hear.
Q: What did you gain personally from your volunteering experience?
I guess a new perspective on homelessness, in Galway and as a social issue in Ireland, but also a different understanding of the world and other peoples’ plight.
Through doing the volunteering, going round to the same people all the time: I don’t know them, but I know that person’s name and I know what coffee they like, and that creates a whole new space in your brain for empathy and understanding.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering with COPE Galway Day Centre Outreach Team?
Do it! I found it’s a great experience, I’ve learned a lot through doing it, and you can make a difference in someone’s day! It’s such a short period of time, just 45 minutes to an hour, it fits easily into your life and can make a great impact!
Interested in volunteering with us? Find out more and check out our current opportunities here.