On Saturday night last, the Dublin Food Co-Op played host to an event which transformed the familiar warehouse of stalls and vendors into a Christmas jamboree with a purpose. The Yule Ball was held to support the Dublin Simon Community with all entry fees going fully to the service. At times it was a sombre occasion, as when the Simon Community CEO Sam McGuinness took to the stage to speak about the funeral he had attended earlier that day – “Jonathan Currie was his name.” McGuinness spoke of the fact that Currie often didn’t sleep on Molesworth Street; that by some chance he lay in that doorway on the night he passed away and that his death confronted the members of Dáil Éireann with an issue they could no longer avoid or brush away.
The housing crisis and issue of homelessness is constantly pushed away, though. Whether it’s families living in their cars, students living in hostels for college terms at a time or people like Jonathan Currie who sleep rough on the streets, homelessness has increased since the crash and so has the visibility of those on the streets. With the Peter McVerry Trust estimating that over 160 people sleep on our city’s streets every night, it is almost inconceivable as to why these figures have been allowed to grow while at the same time the songs of recovery are trumpeted out by those in government.
TD Ruth Coppinger questioned Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly at an Oireachtas Committee meeting during the week, detailing a list of hotels housing families around the city – with upwards of two million euro being paid by Dublin City Council over three months to those establishments housing families. She also took the minister to task over the large tax breaks given to hotels and developers when compared to the lesser amounts given towards homelessness. Whether or not one agrees with Coppinger or the Socialist Party, if the government is serious about eradicating homelessness during this time of crisis then it should do everything in its power to do so.
Alan Kelly has pledged a bed for all homeless people in Dublin in time for Christmas through the provision of more emergency beds. In the meantime, housing families in NAMA owned hotels would seem like an ideal solution, rather than Joan Burton’s shocking desire to revisit the ban on bedsits, a ban which she herself admits was placed for “the best of reasons”. Families should be housed in warm, dry rooms appropriate to their spatial needs, not damp, cramped spaces which have failed health and safety and fire checks. These are people with needs and requirements but also with their own desires and wants.
McGuinness mentioned that Jonathan Currie was sometimes picky about the kinds of places he slept in, and there seems to be a kind of disconnect between those who are homeless and those who have never experienced it; a disbelief that someone without a roof over their head could ever turn down a bed. Just because somebody is homeless doesn’t mean that their reasoning for not wanting to stay in hostels or emergency accommodation should be disregarded or be seen as irrational. The same detachment carried by folks when walking by those on the streets extends to a lack of understanding about the conditions homelessness instills in people, and the importance of being able to keep your dignity while looking up at faces hurriedly turning away.
Of course, housing needs being fulfilled won’t mean that homelessness will be eradicated. But having a place to call one’s own, an address to put after your name when applying for services and the safety and sanctity of your own space can be essential to start seeking help for addiction and mental health issues.
About a year ago on my way into College, I was reminded how close to homelessness so many people are. I was crossing the Ha’penny Bridge when a man stopped to talk to another man sitting on the bridge in a sleeping bag. “Long time no see! How’s it going Jack?” he asked the man in the bag. “It’s going alright,” he responded. “I’ve kept going. Has the office let many more go in the past year?” Everyone has a story.