Tuesday 25 September 2018

If Leo cares then homelessness is now a middle-class concern

Varadkar's about-face may finally force us to look harder at the crisis and bring about meaningful change, writes Donal Lynch

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

It felt strange to hear Leo Varadkar, that unabashed champion of the middle class, take what sounded like such a strong stance on homelessness last week. What an unsexy, un-Instagrammable, unsolvable, non-Leo theme, you couldn't help thinking. A serious comedown after all of those glamorous foreign trips. But in he waded.

Six months after saying Ireland had one of the lowest rates of homelessness, the Taoiseach now said he found the sharp rise in the number of homeless "unbelievably frustrating" and that the housing situation was certainly a "crisis". It was the strongest language yet used by a Taoiseach on the issue of homelessness and evidence that, maybe this time, something might be done. Because when Leo cares about a poverty issue, we know it's because it's really a middle-class concern. Homelessness and the soul-sapping poverty of being a renter in Dublin have become inextricably intertwined. An issue which we held our nose about all our lives has suddenly become the only issue worth thinking about.

It's always difficult, a prominent homelessness campaigner once told me, to get politicians to care enough to do something meaningful. By which he meant not merely throwing money at the problem, because there has nearly always been money. The lack of a home is as stark a deprivation as most of us could imagine, but the popular empathy for the homeless has translated into a well-funded charity sector more than it has any meaningful State interventions in the issue.

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