In December 2014, Mr. John Cotter, 43 was found in a doorway on Molesworth Street. Enda Kenny said €55m had been set aside to deal with the homeless and a huge social housing programme initiated. “Homelessness is a complicated matter.” said Mr. Kenny and so we all moved on. A homeless man was found in the doorway of a Starbucks on Westmoreland Street in Dublin city centre on Sunday the 9th of October. On that same night, a French man who found himself homeless in Cork city centre dies in the Mercy hospital following a vicious assault. The gardai are currently seeking out witnesses.
Human nature dictates that we’re narcissistic despite how much we’d like to say we think of others before ourselves. Everyday we walk past people, all kinds of people. We’re busy. We’re more than likely texting or listening to music or chatting to a friend. We see homeless people everyday. We momentarily feel a bit guilty and then we keep walking and forget all about it. We’re thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner, what we’re going to watch on TV or wear on our night out. We’re pondering over first world problems that are quite frankly meaningless. I’m not trying to make you feel bad about yourself. No one is exempt, I’m also describing myself.
During a five week work placement, I moved up to the city on my own. When you spend time alone, your awareness increases. That’s how I noticed John. The only thing we shared in common was the fact that we both smoked amber leaf. He sat on the same bridge every morning as I walked to work. He made me feel lucky. I would say Good Morning everyday and so would he. It was a strange little acquaintance that always made me feel ashamed that I was very limited in what I could do for my, I guess, friend? But we could never really be friends because although we’re living in the same city; we’re living in different worlds. I live in safety and comfort. John lives his life literally and metaphorically in the cold. This month, I wanted to see what it would be like to be homeless.
Phase One: Research.
Focus Ireland is one of the many organizations that help those in need. I had the opportunity to talk to Rebecca Reynolds, national fundraising initiative manager. Numbers? 5,000 people are homeless today. One quarter of those using homeless services are children. In 2014, Focus Ireland helped to support over 11, 000 people.
“The homelessness crisis has escalated beyond all proportions and belief.” The numbers are only going one way, there are 80 families becoming homeless every month. Why? “It’s been a perfect storm of contributing factors.” ; The recession, a shortage of social housing, a shortage of private renting accommodation, rent has increased in urban centres and there’s a lack of stability in tenancy laws, an increase in relationship break downs and mental health issues. Who? “People who find themselves in financial difficulty, those who have just come out of prison, those with addiction issues or mental health issues, those who have experienced major trauma or have been in abusive interpersonal relationships.”
Phase Two: Interview
I met Nicole, a girl who was one year older than me; however we share nothing in common. Nicole had been homeless for three months but finds herself on the street all day as her friend no longer lets her sleep on the couch. She had apparently stolen from her.
“How does it feel to sit here?”
“Your invisible most of the time, people just walk by ya and pretend they don’t see ya.
“What do you think can be done to help?”
“Well try and help before it gets this bad and even like yano, say hello to someone, it makes a difference to the day. Pretending you can’t see someone is horrible like.”
“How do you currently feel about your situation?”
“Yera, it’s horrible like, I’m a person too like but you know, it don’t mean much to anyone like.”
I still can’t understand what it’s like to be homeless.
Phase Three: Be homeless
When I first talked about doing this, my friend was shocked. “What if you see someone you know? Would you not be embarrassed?” Of course I would but that’s the reality for so many people. I went and sat where John usually sat. I haven’t seen him in awhile. I hope he’s okay. I felt like a fish out of water. I usually walk over this bridge drinking an overpriced juice from the English market, or with bags of shopping or after a night out. Today though, I was sitting there with a cardboard cup. What Nicole was saying immediately started to resonate with me. I left the comfort of my house and took on a new persona.
I was literally nothingness on the ground, invisible, an annoyance.
People’s attitudes immediately changed. I was literally nothingness on the ground, invisible, an annoyance. I don’t realize how much we, the lucky ones try to avoid eye contact, strolling quickly by or on the other scale, stare down at the person sitting there, vulnerable. I sat there for three hours, it was freezing, I was given one euro and twenty cent and I felt deeply saddened by the experience. To be honest though, who do I think I am? I was safe in the knowledge that I could go home, fill up a hot water bottle and get into bed again. No matter what I do, I cannot understand what it’s like to be homeless because it’s unlikely that I will ever be in that position.
The people we’re too busy to look at or notice about are just like us; without all the fluff. They’re part of the society in which we live; they’re the part of society that we frankly don’t care about. Having completed my three pronged approach to Motley Tries; all I can say is; it’s time to start caring.