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Homeless Not Hopeless

category national | housing | news report author Wednesday October 05, 2005 23:11author by Mik Wauthor email mik334 at hotmail dot com Report this post to the editors

On 27th September a sleep in protest to highlight the plight of homeless people in Ireland was staged outside Leinster House. Up till then I had no idea of the extent of homelessness in Ireland or how little the state seems to care about people who are homeless. I wrote down my impression of the events that night. What follows is my account of the few hours I spent in solidarity with my fellow citizens who have no place to call home. The only way homelessness will end in Ireland or anywhere else is if the people decide to end it.

"What do we want?" "We want a home!" chanted the group of people who staged a peaceful sleep in protest at the Kildare Street gates of Leinster house on Tuesday 27th September, the night before the TD's returned to their job of running the country after their summer holiday. No doubt some of them spent a part of their holidays in their second home. In 21st century Ireland it is not uncommon for people to own more then one home. It is also a fact that many citizens of 21st century Ireland have nowhere to call home except the streets. The goal of our protest is a simple one, homes for the homeless. In the 2 weeks prior to the protest 3 people have died while sleeping rough on Dublin's streets, 2 from the cold one from an OD. At that rate Dublin won't have a people sleeping rough problem within the next 2 years.

At around 6-30 in the evening I joined the protest, my motivation was to show solidarity and see what I could do to help. From then until 1 the following morning when I left for the comfort of my rented bed I experienced the laughter and tears of those who every night call the streets their home.

'Progress does not leave people behind ', Mario a protester paraphrased Oscar Wilde to me. He was currently reading a collection of Essay's by Wilde. While I would like to think of myself as one of Wilde’s ‘Agitators’ on a mission to stir the homeless into righteous rebellion my role in the protest was one of learning and helping. The protest was made up of people who are homeless and people who have someplace to call home. A couple of photographers and a radio station were present early on in the evening. The girl from the Examiner took a few shots and rushed off to meet her deadline. Elaine from indymedia.ie stayed longer rolling cigarettes for anyone that wanted them and chatting with everyone. She knew a lot of the people there, unlike me who until that evening would not need any fingers to count the number of homeless people I knew.

One way to gauge how seriously the government take a protest is taken by the number of gardai on duty at the protest. By that measure this protest (and perhaps our cause) was not taken too seriously. I saw two Gardai all evening. One of them was on duty at the Kildare street gate of Dail Eireann and seemed more concerned with his mobile then the group of people settling in for the night beside him. The other passed by as he walked his beat. Our posters declaring 'No more deaths on our streets' and 'Homeless not Hopeless' did not seem to raise any eyebrows with him. Whatever state agencies may think, homelessness is a serious issue in Ireland. Two hundred and thirty seven (237) people sleep rough in Dublin on any given night. Department of the Environment Assessments of Homelessness & Housing Need show that between 1989 and 2002 the number of homeless people in Ireland grew from 1491 to 5581 and the number of people on local authority housing lists grew from 19367 to 48413. It was only with the introduction of the Housing Act in 1988 that any kind of national assessments of homelessness by Local Authorities were carried out, the last of these in 2002. The homeless figures do not reflect those people who are sharing with family or friends by necessity not choice. It also does not include people who are not accessing homeless services. The housing waiting list does not reflect the true level of need given that many single people do not bother to register knowing they will be low on the priority list.

The Samaritans on their regular nightly run provided soup and sandwiches for the homeless among us. It made their task somewhat easier having so many of their regular people in the same place. One of the protest organizers from the street scene organization told me that the original sandwich run was started by a group of students who made sandwiches and soup and delivered them off their own bat. Analysis of the figures above would indicate the sad fact that those students have done more to help the homeless in Ireland then many years of Celtic tiger government. Official publications speak of money been allocated to homeless services. I rang one of these homeless services, (The Adult Homeless Services free phone number 1800724724). My request was to be a simple one. Could they organize some sleeping bags or blankets to be dropped to Kildare Street, where a group of homeless people were spending the night. The first two attempts to get through rang and rang until my cell phone gave up the ghost and returned a ‘Not Answer’ message to the screen. The third attempt got through to a machine and after 5 minutes on hold I hung up. A fellow protester more experienced in ringing this service told me that been put on hold is par for the course. Been put on hold when your freezing to death won't keep you warm! One of the people from Spirited Voices who were there to show their documentary "Barred (In The Shadow Of A City)" told me that when making the film they rang the service and were kept on hold for 12 minutes. This government response to the homeless issue has been caught for posterity on film. A carpet found dumped in an alleyway served as a mattress insulating those sleeping in from the cold Kildare Street concrete. Whatever its source the carpet was welcome.

One of the more memorable events of the night was when "Barred (In The Shadow Of A City)" was projected onto a blanket tied to the rails of Leinster House. Here we had a group of homeless people protesting about the homeless issue in Ireland watching a documentary about homeless people. Even the Garda minding Leinster house for the night stepped out from his hut to catch a few minutes of the movie show. 'Stand back out of the light one of the lads shouted at a group of people making their way home from the pub who had stooped in front of our improvised screen. 'We're trying to watch the match.' It was one of the many witticisms that night that kept us laughing.

An impromptu music session helped to keep the cold out of our bones. Some danced reels, some jigs and most like me clapped our hands and threw shapes to the music provided by Barry on the concertina. ‘Bertie Aherne is in the Dail, he wants us to vote for fianna fail’, we sang tounge in cheek. While Bertie may not have heard us our singing and dancing kept us warm and laughing. Like anything else in life rule number one of a protest is you gotta have fun even when the issue your protesting about is not funny. Up to know an inactive protester I took over the cigarette rolling duties, in protest like this everyone has a part to play.

Senator Terry Leyden, Government Front Bench Spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, a man of some importance, happened by on his way home from one of the pubs in the area.
True to form as a politician he talked the talk declaring his surprise at the extent of homelessness in Ireland and informing us that in 2005 there was absolutely no reason why there were homeless people in Dublin or anywhere else in the country. This is a wealthy country and the money is there to end homelessness he told his audience. He pledged that he would ask those ministers responsible why 237 people 'officially' sleep every night rough on Dublin's streets. We wait with interest to see if the Senator will walk the walk.

As the night bore on support was given from passing motorists who blew their horns and flashed their lights. Some people walking by seemed genuinely interested in our protest and stayed a while to find out more. The majority of passers hurried by us, their eyes glued to the ground in the see no evil pose typical of those who want to live in denial about this other side of the coin that is successful modern Ireland.

When I left, my sleeping in brothers and sisters were settled in for the night, some sleeping, some talking some singing. A lot of them have slept on cold concrete for far too long!

Related Link: http://homelessnothopeless.blogspot.com/
author by Akil Hamilton - Education etcpublication date Thu Oct 06, 2005 15:11author email akilhamilton at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone 0121 714 3347Report this post to the editors

I found it Interesting to read the review from Mik334 (Mick), of the Homeless 'Sleep in'.

I Lived in Ireland (Dublin) for five years, and found it to be an "interesting" and beautiful Country.

From a personal standpoint , I only came to read the review because the link was sent to me by Mick.

I would add on a personal note, that Mick is one of the 'thirty-something" young men in Ireland that represents hope for the country. Why? Because he has managed to look beyond the 'Commerce' and 'Success' of Ireland, and see the needs of the few. I am pleased to say I met a few such young people during my stay there. There is hope yet.

It is this memory of Ireland I carry with me. A country, like America, where the "doing well" and the "barely surviving" pass each other with a suspicious glance on Grafton street.

Oh Ireland, oh Ireland. Why do you despise the poor so? Why do you slay your prophets? Why are those in Blackrock more worthy of life than the sick and poor "North-siders"?

author by Jon Glackin - Street Seenpublication date Thu Oct 06, 2005 19:24author email streetseen04 at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone 0870541947/ 0877974622Report this post to the editors

Good stuff Mike!

It is vital to get as much information out to the public domain and I congratulate you in setting up the blog...

Just one clarification it was Simon community volunteers who arrived with tea and sandwiches not the Samaritans. The Food Not Bombs crew also came up trumps with soup and othe food.

The homeless community are organising for themselves at last, currently we are petitioning the General Public outside St. Stephens Green Shopping Centre, Grafton and O'Connell Street EVERY DAY from 12ish if people could drop by and show solidarity.. In the last few days we have recieved almost 9000 signatures!!! We intend to increase this presence across the whole of Dublin and beyond so your support and assistance would be gratefully recieved...

Some of the Lads will also be appearing on RTEs Big Bite on Monday

There are a host of other actions being planned which I will post details of after our 'homeless' meeting tommorow. Unlike previous campaigns the decision making process lies firmly within the 'homeless' community.

For those interested in getting involved in any way get in touch:

Jon Glackin 087 054 1947
Mark Grehan 087 7974622

The homeless are revolting! Join Them!

author by alice leahy - TRUST - Via Ireland.compublication date Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The State's so-called homeless strategy is failing our most disadvantaged people, writes Alice Leahy

The recent scandal where three homeless people were found dead within a 48-hour period underlines just how urgently we need to address the issue of how we as a society treat our most vulnerable citizens.

At a time of unparalleled prosperity one might think it would be an easy matter. However, after reading the latest survey of homeless people and the prison service, one is left feeling that public policy seems to be geared to nurturing a "collective deception" that all is well when clearly it is not.

One cannot tackle any problem unless one acknowledges it exists, and that it is serious enough to warrant concerted action. But since a recent survey showed that 54 per cent of the prison population have a history of homelessness, it appears not only that the true scale of the problem has remained hidden, but that public policy seems to be geared to maintaining that "collective deception" in the sense that as long as homeless people are off our streets there is no problem, even if they are incarcerated.

It is worth underlining that the survey reveals that a good percentage were sent to prison for offences linked to their homelessness and that as many as one in four people are homeless on committal.

This came as no surprise to us, and is also very worrying, because it underlines that our so-called homeless strategy is failing the most vulnerable, especially in Dublin where people are also drawn from other parts of the country, and leads to the question: does the fact that so many formerly homeless people are in prison explain why the figures for people sleeping rough on the street are allegedly down?

We have extensive contact with the prison service and know many people who are homeless who have been in prison. We meet up to 60 men and women each morning, many of whom are ex-prisoners. Seeing new people every day, we find suggestions that the numbers sleeping rough in Dublin are as low as 100 are not credible.

People who sleep in doorways, parks, squats and "skippers" tend to fall through the cracks because, let us be honest, with their "chaotic lifestyles" and sometimes serious psychological and mental health problems they are very challenging to deal with.

Living rough also isolates them in a society which now places inordinate emphasis on conformism, appearance and success. Against that background it is easy to appreciate why some are forced out or excluded, and the prison system, as the figures in the latest survey show, has become the last refuge for many who, in a real sense, are the ultimate outsiders in Irish society. Indeed, some we know find life on the streets so appalling and violent at times that they actually welcome the opportunity to be sent to prison as a form of respite.

Why has society and the State and voluntary sector, despite our prosperity, allowed a situation to develop where so many homeless people are in prison that should not be there? Human contact and caring are not valued any more and, if anything, are actively discouraged by the system to the point where front-line people spending time to help people can be made to feel they are "wasting time with people".

Even the voluntary sector is now forced to adopt a management philosophy based on quantitative methods, using benchmarks and performance indicators, to obtain grant support, which means that the challenge to give time to people who need human contact and understanding increasingly becomes a question of budgets and figures instead of human need.

People are constantly being moved on in this new management culture that implies if you refer someone to some other agency you have been successful. The figures look good, when in fact another person in need has been further let down by society.

We saw this approach previously, in a different context, when the mental hospitals were emptied and their former patients were to be cared for by community-based services. Inadequate, or in some cases no, community-based services were provided for many, and the numbers of people homeless on the street increased. The "spin", on the other hand, was that this was "reform", but for the people involved it just meant more rather than less misery.

Taking time and valuing human contact is not expensive if we want to end the cycle of alienation and exclusion that produces outsiders on our streets.

"Ray", a 50-year-old man who has been homeless for several years, provided me with a very practical example of this recently when he described what happened when he went in search of treatment:

"They don't see you now, they examine you on the computer and give you a piece of paper, then you leave."

If people who have deep psychological problems and cannot cope, just processing rather than listening to them will only ensure they drift from one service to another, never getting help and costing the State even more money. In other words, taking time with people is not expensive in the long term.

Meanwhile, in the increasingly expanding bureaucracy that has grown up around poverty and homelessness, the emphasis is on research or roles which have little or no direct contact with people who are homeless on our streets.

This means those who know most about the needs of the invisible people in Irish society are not listened to or taken seriously when they try to advocate on their behalf.

We need more people able to work with the most marginalised who are not intimidated by the smell, the pain and human consequences of extreme poverty and social isolation. We must start to put a real premium on that kind of caring, because if we want a truly inclusive society we need to move away from a culture where success and status based on job titles and credentials are paramount, to one in which people matter as people, and those who care for people in any capacity, are listened to, especially when those in their care are often not able to speak for themselves.

We can make a difference by adopting a new philosophy in the health, social and homeless services in the State and voluntary sector by insisting on taking time with people, treating them as people and not as statistics and therefore avoid further alienating the most marginalised and those who are attempting to care for them.

Alice Leahy is director of TRUST, which provides health and social services to homeless people. www.trust-ireland.ie.

author by sex - fairgreen galwaypublication date Mon Oct 10, 2005 19:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

go on the boys in the fairgreen in Galway some of the soundest skins in the west.

author by Jon Glackin - Street Seenpublication date Tue Oct 11, 2005 11:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Some of the Lads will be appearing on The Big Bite today (Tuesday) repeated again on Weds morning.

author by Waterloo Bridgepublication date Tue Oct 11, 2005 13:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Back in the mid 80's while working for the Simon Community in London a group of us were out doing what was called 'street work' (!) on one of the bitterest nights of the winter. It was about 3 or 4 am on Sat night/Sun morning. None of the rough sleepers were talking and none were asleep, concentrating fiercely on keeping warmin in cardboard boxes that had been pushed together for warmth. It was about -5 or -6 degrees. Id driven the community van with its urns of soup and sandwiches to the designated parking spot. We set out our stall but the usual crowd were not there - it was too cold to hang about waiting for us. We decided to split up and take the grub around so that people would not have to be disturbed from what warmth they had. Food was vital for many of the older people, particularly.

As we made our way quietly about, I found one elderly man in an amazing construction he'd made out of large fridge boxes and such like. I whispered to him gently but there was no reply. A bit worried because of the weather, I decided to persevere although waking people deliberately was not considered appropriate. Second time around, he came to sleepily, coughed and said
'Ive got soup and sandwiches here if youd like some'
'Wot kind of sandwiches?'
I checked the packet
'Jam', I said
Short silence, then
'Fack off, den'

You've got admit, the guy had a point. So pay attention to the quality of the food, people.

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