Tuesday 15 October 2019

John Masterson: 'Homeless figures - sure they are just numbers'

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John Masterson

I am a bit of a news addict. I listen to the headlines on the hour. This habit began when the first RTE news was at 8am. This is now regarded as mid morning by some people. I was in very busy traffic in Dublin at 6.15am recently.

These days I leave the World Service on through the night and wake to the Radio 4 News at 6am. From 7am I flick between Newstalk and Morning Ireland, and when I feel I have caught up and am beginning to hear things for a second time I will switch between Marty Whelan on Lyric and John Walsh on KCLR96FM, both of whom are blessed with a sense of humour and the ability to bring a smile to a face frozen by bad news.

I say 'caught up' as if it was a race. I say 'caught up' as if there was a penalty for not knowing how the strife is going in Kashmir, what the public service unions are up to, some Donald Trump nonsense, the latest HSE mess, or the homeless figures.

If it bleeds it leads and these days we daily listen to horrors that only get worse with the passing years. I have become increasingly immune to what is happening to other human beings. I am not quite as callous as the idiot schoolgirl who went to Syria and wants to come home after telling us that she was 'not fazed' by seeing the decapitated heads of the enemies of Islam. And she wants to be somebody's next door neighbour!

But from my own comfort bubble, I place a lot of the bad news into the 'that wouldn't happen to me or my family or friends' category. So I pretty much ignore it.

We tend to believe that people are responsible for what they do, at least to some degree. If someone drinks themselves into oblivion or gambles the house away, the most we say is something along the lines of 'there but for the grace of God go I'. It is a self-protection mechanism. If there are a hundred redundancies in a thousand employee factory we tend to mistakenly attribute some blame to the people who lost their jobs. It keeps the world predictable and understandable.

And so I thought of the homeless, by and large. That would never happen to me or mine. Hopefully it will not. It shocked me to realise that I had become used to a country in which upwards of 10,000 people have no safe, clean, warm, predictable place to lay their head and raise their family. I live in a country where children are eating pizza because they have no kitchen, and where they do not have a desk or structure to do their homework, a place to bring friends, or perhaps even a regular school to go to.

Channel 4 News shows me pictures of children in Syrian refugee camps. I wonder what chance they have of a productive happy life, a life they are as entitled to as you and me.

In Ireland they are not in camps. If they were it might shock us into tackling it as the emergency it is. Children who do not grow up with comfort, love, care, education have a greatly diminished chance of taking full part in society with jobs, homes and their own families in the fullness of time. I listen to the news and am numbed by statistics. Maybe it is too difficult for us to think of them as people with faces, lives, families and personalities. We would have to do something about it.

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