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.
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.