Saturday 3 December 2016

When scenic surrounds hide secret suffering

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

The 2011 census found that 37pc of people in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough were living outside Dublin (stock image)
The 2011 census found that 37pc of people in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough were living outside Dublin (stock image)

The trees that surround this country town look like giant sprouting heads of broccoli. While the deceptively termed 'fallow fields' are literally bouncing with life, butterflies and bumblebees fluttering up whenever you wade through the waist-high grass. Everything is in bloom, making it easy to believe that bad things only belong in big cities.

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But there is an all too pedantic reason why country life appears so peaceful and pure. For inadequacy of services force many who are suffering from mental illness and homelessness to migrate to larger towns.

Which can unfortunately be a case of jumping from the frying pan of provincial life into the fast-moving and fraught fire of metropolises. For, ironically, increased isolation often leads to more acute problems.

However, all is not as it seems in these scenic surrounds. Because homelessness is not only present in rural Ireland, but it is also increasing in parts of the country. The 2011 census found that 37pc of people in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough were living outside Dublin.

But where are they? You certainly don't see any around this neck of the woods, where it is hard to imagine homeless people on the streets as locals who might have known them all their lives casually walked on by.

Maybe it's not so much a case of 'the secret millionaire' as the somewhat predictably Irish scenario of the secret suffering. For a Simon Community report has found that the homelessness in rural areas "is more hidden, more stigmatised and more difficult to endure than being homeless in towns or cities."

According to Claire McTiernan, CEO of North West Simon Community, "in rural areas, people may not be sleeping rough. Instead they are staying with family and friends or living in overcrowded and unfit accommodation."

Which is largely due to the system regarding local authority housing. Ciaran Stenson, who runs a drop-in centre for the homeless in Dublin's Temple Bar, believes "the only people who realistically have a chance of getting one are families, because all the stock is two- and three-bedroom houses. So single men and women can be on a housing list, but they are never going to get a house. You have this crazy social policy that the more kids you have, the better chance you have of getting a house."

Leaving those troubled souls who do not make it out of the small communities where they grew up to seemingly survive in their, albeit, more human scale surroundings. Where everyone knows their name, but not much else about them. Their deterioration takes place so imperceptibly that neighbours might not notice till their premature end.

Have we swapped the valley of squinting windows for ones too squeamish to perceive the suffering amid the budding trees?

Sunday Independent

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