With Christmas approaching, the recent deaths of two men sleeping rough in Dublin have brought the homelessness crisis into stark focus. We may need to go for practical solutions that improve the situation in the short term.
The angle of the sun lowers and the year grinds into the darkness. We compensate with glare and glitz. Shops swell with songs we hate yet can’t be without. Fundraisers sing raucous carols and winter anthems. Another year older, as the song goes, and whaddya get?
Well, you get cold if you sleep outdoors. Two men died in doorways the other week. In time we’ll learn what they died of, but really we already know. They died of poverty and displacement and an inability to master the things you have to do to survive.
There have been rough sleepers in and around Hog Heights over the years. Some were unpleasant, at least when out of it. But most were poor crathurs, as the great grandmere of the herd used to call them. Their troubles were deep and intractable and started at birth or soon after. Drink and drugs didn’t help their integration into society but at least they dulled the pain.
Of course, that’s true of many but if you have smarts, cunning, resilience or support you can probably get by. Each of us knows someone who constantly flirts with going under, but manages to stay afloat. Those sleeping in the open don’t. Hunger and cold will challenge even the strongest constitution. And if the cold and hunger don’t get ya, a virus will.
The increase in homelessness in Ireland has many causes. Few houses were built between 2008 and 2015, so we fell behind. And when houses were repossessed, their owners were forced onto the renting market to compete with everyone else, students included. As the pressure mounted, families wound up in hotels. Others were turfed onto the streets.
More recently we have had vulture funds living down to their name, selling on loans to be cashed in, forcing the owners out and, it goes without saying, onto the same rental market as everyone els. There were external pressures too as workers came here to fill the jobs that we don’t fill.
In a horrible irony, well-meaning legislation led to the disappearance of traditional bedsits. These constituted modest, cheap accommodation and for all their flaws provided adequate housing for many of those who are now on the streets or in hotel accommodation.
It’s really rough. And it can’t be solved at the stroke of a pen. But some imagination wouldn’t hurt. And a bit of realism too. Temporary prefabricated housing should be built, now.
Ask a rough sleeper and they’ll tell you: it’s better to have shelter, as long as it’s not in a hostel, where people are out of it, shouting and fighting and pissing on the floor. A room of one’s own in a modern prefabricated until they’re properly sorted would do fine. Pardon the seasonal note, but good prefab is better than a stable heated by the breath of beasts.
Lots of people don’t like such pragmatism.
They want everyone to have accommodation of the highest quality. That should and must be the goal. People deserve proper housing and there are grave risks to quick fixes. In Ireland, short-term responses have a habit of becoming long-term solutions.
Indeed, look at the old Ballymun flats. They were regarded as state-of-the-art for their time, but eventually became a sink of disadvantage. It would take a superhuman effort to avoid that happening with, say, a prefab arrangement in Parkgate Street.
That effort requires a commitment from everyone, including an increasingly old school right wing party like Fine Gael.
Not long ago some citizens hoped that the new politics might facilitate less nonsense and more discussion. No such luck. Oh sure, it works in some areas. But the new politics haven’t housed the homeless any more than they have sorted the justice or health systems.
And nobody’s buying the line from other parties that everything would be better if they were in charge. That includes Sinn Fein where, by the way, there’s a steady stream of members resigning, citing a culture of bullying.
The party’s immediate response to the latest, by Senator Trevor O’Clochartaigh, has been to deny accusations of a bullying culture and to blame the Senator himself. Cynics could be forgiven for likening this to the first reactions of the Garda Siochána management to Sgt Maurice McCabe’s efforts to blow the whistle…
Being out in the political cold is a lonely place – but it can’t compare with sleeping rough. And there are suggestions that the high-atmosphere jetstream has changed course in a way that greatly increases the prospects of a period of much colder weather at some point over the next four to six weeks.
If so, the impact on the homeless will be devastating. Here on Hog Heights, we have made a significant contribution to Simon. We encourage you to do likewise, or to another charity doing similar work.
The possible impact of high altitude on Ireland is of course mirrored in many other spheres. Think Brexit, Trump, Germany’s negotiations on forming a Government, cyber espionage, electoral interference, even North Korea. Things could get a while lot worse.
This is a time for generosity and celebration.
But also for wariness, of what might be coming down the tracks. Set your doubter’s antennae to high. Remember, if it’s on social media, there’s a very strong chance it isn’t true. Never believe a rumour.
Thus armed, let’s sally forth, into the maelstrom, the maw of the seasonal whirl. Pardon us going a bit Weimar here, but let’s all go a bit crazy.
You only live once – and with all the dark clouds around, we might as well enjoy what we can when we can…
Ask a rough sleeper and they’ll tell you: it’s better to have shelter, as long as it’s not in a hostel, where people are out of it, shouting and fighting and pissing on the floor.