Sir, – Media outlets countrywide have highlighted the housing shortage, not least The Irish Times. Statistic-filled reports continue to give a picture of the plight of people looking for social or affordable housing. Many people who never thought they would become homeless have bared their souls. In spite of heroic efforts being made at many levels, bricks and mortar alone will not solve the problem of homelessness.
Simon Carswell’s article on September 9th reported on the story of Jack Watson. He was a troubled soul, like so many other people known to us who have died on the streets and will continue to in spite of the best efforts of loving families. Your newspaper reported on the death of another man we knew well some years ago and whose picture in our office is a reminder of his life. He once said to me, “I would need a solicitor with me to get a service if I told the truth”.
In years past, people who were troubled, difficult or different were locked away in institutions – the large psychiatric hospitals generally – and their closure was seen as a great success. Sufficient community support services were never put in place. Today prison is often the only safe haven for people like this. State services have been taken over by voluntary bodies where grant aid clearly depends on how successful one is. For that reason agencies can find themselves having to pick and choose who gets a service. The crime committed or the psychiatric label attached can have a bearing on one’s ability to source even basic shelter. People with problems can feel isolated in a community and therefore drift to large cities to live anonymously and get lost in a crowd. This is common to all cities in the developed world, and this is what homelessness is about, as distinct from houselessness.
The complexities of homelessness needs to be understood and acknowledged by all of us, including those responsible for planning and developing services. We have called for inter-departmental dialogue for years. Dialogue will be meaningless unless people on the ground are listened to, particularly those asking awkward questions, and the relevant statutory agencies on the ground work together.
The number of people sleeping in parks, doorways and footpaths is growing by the day in our capital city. Drug-taking and anti-social behaviour have become the norm. Moving people on to an invisible life in the hinterland until they make another headline is passing the buck. A very basic open access (24 hours a day), clean, warm and well-run shelter would go a long way to address this problem.
There is a real lack of informed debate about the many social issues of our time, especially homelessness. Articles often lack the analysis required, focusing instead on the now with sensational headlines. Politicians, local and national, appear to resist working together, and this is not helpful. Simon Carswell’s article deserves credit and could be used as a starting point for debate. Hope springs eternal. – Yours, etc,
Director of Services,
Alice Leahy Trust,