News Liz O’Donnell

Thursday 18 September 2014

Liz O'Donnell : Cuts to most vulnerable a new low -- even in an age of austerity

Published 14/01/2014 | 02:30

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No-one should have to sleep rough on our streets

Even in a climate of austerity, it's shocking that Dublin Corporation is to make cuts in funding for the homeless as well as home grants for the elderly and people with disabilities. Set against Irish Water's €50m spend on consultants, the move is perverse.

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We have been experiencing the worst weather in decades. The number of homeless people sleeping on the streets or in inadequate hostels and temporary accommodation is on the rise. It is highly probable that cutting such essential supports will result in deaths of homeless people over the next few months of the winter.

One only has to visit the area around the Four Courts to witness long lines of the hungry poor and homeless, queuing up for meals and food parcels at Brother Kevin's Capuchin Day Centre. It is ironic that such lamentable scenes happen side by side with the courts of justice.

The location is also across the river from the Dublin civic offices where this proposal emanated in the 2014 budget for Dublin Corporation. It is likely, therefore, that the officials who drew up this unconscionable proposal regularly pass by these scenes of poverty, addiction and homelessness.

How can such an unconscionable policy emerge? There is not one citizen of the city who would support reducing or ending grants to organisations who care for homeless people. To be homeless is the lowest of human predicaments. The homeless comprise those who have fallen through all the earlier welfare safety nets and end up literally sitting on the cold ground exposed to the elements. One thinks of King Lear wailing in the storm -- "Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor bare forked animal."(Act 3 Scene 4)

Funding for homeless services has been cut by €6m; housing adaptation grants cut by €3m in the budget prepared by the city manager of Dublin Corporation. Councillors are being asked to approve the massively reduced budget whereby funds to run homeless services fall from €46m to just under €40m in 2014 and home adaptation funds for the elderly and disabled fall from €7.5m to €4.4m.

It is illogical to cut such home grants which aim to keep elderly people in their own homes rather than acute hospital beds. Such a move flies in the face of an elder-care policy which expresses a preference for keeping senior citizens as long as possible in their own homes.

Surely if democracy means anything these cuts will not be approved by elected representatives of Dublin Corporation, where I served for three years in the early 1990s? Dubliners should make their views known on this. It is upsetting enough to pass by young homeless people shivering on freezing city pavements and huddled in doorways without in a sense condoning this policy by our silence.

The extreme arctic weather in North America has rightly highlighted the impact and danger for homeless people in that part of the First World. We too must be doubly vigilant of risk to life posed by our harsh winter, particularly for those most vulnerable to the elements. For the last month as I lay in my warm bed in a heated house I have been mindful of those outside and exposed to the storms and rain.

How we treat our elderly citizens and other vulnerable groups like the homeless is a measure of our civilised values as a society.

Visiting my own mother in her Limerick nursing home last weekend, I happened upon a sing- song in the common room. A local performer, Joe Ferns, entertained the residents with two hours of singing. Like most Irish people, but particularly that generation, residents all joined in, belting out the old favourites word perfect. "Some enchanted evening... Candy store on the corner... I'll be your sweetheart if you will be mine... if you were the only girl in the world and I was the only boy ... "

When I arrived before the performance, many of the residents looked bored. Once the singing began they were transformed. Singing aloud with animated faces, exchanging glances with each other, remembering lovers and happy days of their youth. It was a remarkable example of the value of music therapy. Some who were able got up to waltz; those in wheelchairs swayed and wished they could.

These were fortunate elderly people being entertained and cared for to the highest level. Young care assistants and nurses catered for their every need with a smile. I thought of all the elderly people in unsuitable accommodation or in acute hospital beds or worse on trollies. One would wish such comfort and security for every elderly citizen and for them all to sing away the afternoon as the wind and rain blew around outside.

Irish Independent

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