Let There be Dignity

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Ireland ~ one of the best of the year ~ but I’m haunted by the extent of the darkness which it showed me.

I travelled to Dublin, which is about 2 hours by train from Waterford. I hadn’t been there in a good while but it’s a city that was home to me for the best part of twenty years from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.

It felt so good to be back, and the bus ride along by the River Liffey was full of nostalgia as we passed by all the elegant bridges that are like commas in my life.

It was when I was walking up towards Trinity College, my alma mater, that everything changed. Westmoreland Street was buzzing and there on the pavement lay a big huddle of a man sleeping in an overcoat on bits of a torn up cardboard box. The crowds were going about their business; people were chatting and pretty much having to step over the man. I wondered if he was dead; no he was breathing but surely this was social death I was witnessing.

There is a very serious problem with homelessness in Ireland and we hear everyday about ‘rough sleepers.’ Hearing is one thing, seeing is quite another.

I was meeting my brother, who lives in Dublin, and we decided to have an ambulatory chat out by one of our favourite parks near the National Art Gallery. Dublin is a relatively small city still and it didn’t surprise me when I heard someone shouting a friendly ‘hello’ to Big Bro. Just as we stopped to exchange pleasantries with this cheery guy, I realised that there was a young man dozing at our feet. His eyes flickered open for a tiny second. They told no story but there has to be a life story; a nightmarish horror story.

Broken Dreams

Yes, there is an awareness of homelessness in Ireland and there are some wonderful people, like Father Peter McVerry, and organisations like the Simon Community and Focus Ireland, that are trying their very best to fight the heaving tide of complex problems that give rise to, and are exacerbated by it. But, the situation is clearly out of control and needs to be prioritised in our social and economic policy and practice before it somehow becomes accepted as being just part of the way things are in this country of ours.

Nobody should ever be reduced to sleeping on the street in Summer or Winter. We need to wake up as a society, open our eyes and see what we are doing to people who have needs and feelings just like us. There are no excuses for inaction and blame games.

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

23 thoughts on “Let There be Dignity”

  1. I am sorry to hear that there are homeless even in Dublin. It is hard to go about one’s business when a fellow human is lying on the street. There seems to be no easy answer in any city but some are doing better than others. In Corpus Christi there are several shelters but some refuse to go and abide by house rules. Unfortunately, as you wrote it is in danger of being considered just the way it is.

  2. I’m so sorry to read about the Dublin experience in today’s blog. I know homelessness is a problem in Australia, both in cities and small regional communities. There are a couple of charities here, like St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and smaller church run groups who do try to help. So, I do my best to help them with donations etc. But I’d like to see more being done to help people through their tough times. Instead of spending so much money on infrastructe projects like the 12 subs, I’d like to see the social services and art sectors budgets ramped up. We have a general election (Federal) coming soon and I will be voting for whoever is providing the best options for help in the areas where I think it is needed.

    It’s pouring rain here..lovely after so long without, but we are in the middle of an east-coast low and we have had more rain in the last twenty four hours than we have had in the past couple of months:):) Dougal doggie is looking out of the window and I think he’s wondering if he will get his walk today. I’m not sure. I walked him yesterday in the pouring rain. He loved it and so did I. But when I took my soaking wet socks off, I found a great big leech….not so happy then as I ran around getting antiseptic and trying to stop the blood flow…ah the wonders of nature.

    Thaks for the post Jean. Its good to know how lucky we are:):)

    1. Hi Olga, homelessness is sad wherever it occurs. I agree wholeheartedly about political will and prioritising it in budget terms. Unfortunately, it probably perceived as one of those issues that won’t attract many votes.

  3. Sigh, that’s sad Jean. It is the same here. There are shelters but they run a clean show and will not permit alcohol or drugs -For that reason some won’t use them. Also many of the homeless here use shopping carts to keep the little they have. Those carts are not welcome in the shelters and left outside they will be stolen. Plus quite a few have a small dog for company and warning when asleep – The dogs are also not welcome in the shelters. It gets very cold here in winter and when it goes below -20 Celsius, the city opens up gymnasiums and city facilities like recreation centers to house the homeless for the night. They are allowed to bring their belongings with them then but have to sleep on mats on the floor although they are kept warm and fed by the Salvation Army.

    Our NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) have shown over and over that it is cheaper in the big picture to house the homeless and feed them. It is cheaper than paying the health care costs and food bank costs and shelter costs. But try as we may, we cannot seem to build subsidized housing fast enough. There is a five year waiting list for housing.

    It is a big problem Jean and it will inevitably get worse. Every year more-and more of the wealth is held by a smaller and smaller number of people. That is a function of capitalism and unless we address it,it will continue to get worse until there is a revolution. The trouble is that the wealthy have to buy onto the changes and they like it just as it is – thank you very much. Our economies will go up and down over the centuries but the overall trend is for the poor to get poorer.

      1. Indeed, as we address the problem, it grows bigger. Surprisingly enough some of the major Capitalist think tanks in the US have started sounding the alarm – huge names like Forbes and Carnegie, etc – that we cannot continue to allow this wealth transfer to build, especially since it seems to be gaining speed as it progresses. They have not said so, but it is becoming crystal clear that the end result is revolution and many deaths, especially of the rich when the poor take by violence what they need to for resources to feed themselves. If you look at the current unrest you can glimpse shadows of the beginning salvos already. The rich are gathering in gated communities with armed guards to protect their possessions while the poor are reduced to stealing food.

        1. I’d like to disagree with you, Paul, but the shadows are looming here too in all sorts of subtle ways and inequality and power/powerlessness seem to be at the heart of it

  4. Your post brings home to me how, for many of us the homeless have become part of the city landscape … However, when they become labeled and a “society problem” we loose the one on one human connection.
    This is a brother and son lying there. It’s easy to forget that.
    Louise at Dare Boldly is making a difference in Calgary. The homeless need more advocates!

  5. It is so sad. I have seen this the most remarkably in Portland, Oregon, where the homeless are allowed to congregate on the sidewalks/streets as much as they need to. In most cities they are shooed away and only allowed in certain places for any length of time (such as under freeway overpasses, etc.). It is extremely hot in Phoenix right now, so they clear out the dining room of St. Vincent de Paul so that the homeless can sleep in there at night. The heat outside is deadly. I wondered why they can’t sleep in there every night.

    1. It’s impossible to imagine how it would be Summer or Winter but the recession has made homelessness a reality for thousands here who would never have seen it coming.

  6. How sad but true..Homelessness has become a way of life for some ..due to social problems . We here in the USA are use to seeing , reading and hearing about the homeless. There are shelters that they can stay according to how early they arrive to wait in line and must be out by a certain time., beds are at a premium due to the numbers..it becomes their way of life. The woods are full of ramshackle tents, boxes for those who don’t want to be with others. At Winter time a street check is made in localities like Boston, Brockton to get these people in out of the cold. We are suppose to be our brothers’ keeper and help the needy but we’re not doing enough to alleviate the problem and to help reconstruct the lives of these people. Some have mental issues either from serving in wars, or issues with drugs and alcohol ..these need to be addressed ..so many fall through the cracks and don’t get the help that they need. They need a chance to get back into society and we have to stop turning our backs on them. “He ain’t heavy…he’s my brother”!

  7. One of many sad sights I saw in Dublin was around by the recycling bins in Temple Bar. There in a corner was a young chap painstakingly counting out a pile of cents, maybe a couple of euro worth. He didn’t say or ask for anything, just kept counting. I’m still ashamed that I didn’t hand him a bit of silver or a note.

  8. I concur with you Jean about the very large problem of homelessness, and it is very sad to see, especially when you hear that so many children are affected. I am afraid that we are seeing a two-tier society more and more. So many problems have to be addressed and the sooner the better. Thank goodness for Vincent the Paul, and for other organisations helping the homeless.

  9. This just becoming too common. I agree there is not enough being done. People are being desentified and as you say they just step over them, pretending no to see. I do not know the answer it brakes my heart.xxx

    1. I wish we had the answers, Willow, but hopefully, somehow, there can be a wave of human concern so big that political minds will be switched on to tackle it head on.

    1. Yes, rough sleeping is becoming more common here in Ireland too.
      Just listening to the Minister with responsibility for this speaking on radio about it now. He’s new to the brief and is highlighting the need for greater co- ordination. The latter seems to be one of the most challenging things across all areas of social policy which seems crazy.

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