Wednesday 13 November 2019

Editorial: 'Homeless should not have to die to get an address'

'Sleeping in our warm beds we scarcely have time to worry about those bunking down in doorways or in flimsy tents, on freezing nights. It is simply too much for us to dwell on' (stock photo)
'Sleeping in our warm beds we scarcely have time to worry about those bunking down in doorways or in flimsy tents, on freezing nights. It is simply too much for us to dwell on' (stock photo)

There is a hollow piety around "homelessness". We have introduced a moral cordon sanitaire between us and them. As if dignity and respect hinge on owning property. When we speak of the "homeless" we need only consider buildings or lack of them. We don't have to think about the person: frightened, forgotten, marginalised, invisible.

If you don't have an address you don't have an identity. You become an "inconvenient truth" to be stepped over or around. You are "homeless" after all. But the unspoken social contract we have with you is this: when you die, we might pay attention.

We will even give you a permanent address. And so Timothy (Timmy) Hourihane was savagely murdered in Cork. Interviewed many times in national media, he spoke of how precarious his life was, and even foresaw his own death. But no one else seems to have given it too much thought. His life had become chaotic after the death of his partner, Michael. And so he lost the roof over his head.

He once spoke of the death of another woman who had been a friend of his. She too died sleeping rough in Cork. "Homelessness is out of control. I knew Kathleen O'Sullivan. She had a good heart for me," he had said. He made light of his own suffering. "When you sleep on the streets you are lucky to wake up with your trainers still on. It has happened to me where I have woken up with one trainer missing. You have to laugh cos you think 'why didn't they take the two'?"

He pitched his tent among other people who lived in the street to feel "safe".

So much for that.

But sleeping in our warm beds we scarcely have time to worry about those bunking down in doorways or in flimsy tents, on freezing nights.

It is simply too much for us to dwell on.

And so we don't. For if we did we would not let so many die alone in the dark.

We might even do something.

Instead, we have designated them as other beings, human flotsam and jetsam, outside our circles of comfort.

But every so often our conscience is punched in its face and we force ourselves not to turn away,

Gardaí investigating this murder say Mr Hourihane may have been the victim of more than one assault. Our hand-wringing about such deaths can not become an empty national ritual.

We can't console ourselves by saying "homelessness is complex" and thus consign it to being someone else's problem.

The next council or State service can deal with them. Pass the human parcel.

And we too do pass them daily in the streets without a thought. It's easy to walk on.

We can hardly transform a person's life with the spare change in our pockets: it's more complex. We can justify doing nothing a thousand ways.

But what we can't do is say with any degree of honesty that we really care. Not until another person - a brother, a sister, a father or mother - a member of our community whether we see them as such or not, dies. And then of course we'll care. Until the next time.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss