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Deirdre O'Shaughnessy : He felt like the king of the world...because of a cheap tent and a bag of biscuits

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A homeless man. (Pic posed).

A homeless man. (Pic posed).

A homeless man. (Pic posed).

Two years ago, I watched with some alarm as rent supplement was capped.

Since then, it has become disturbingly clear just what that cap is costing.

Landlords in negative equity are panicking and raising rents, tenants are trying to move and there is an entire class of people, working and unemployed, who are absolutely shut out of the private rented system.

They are also shut out of social housing because what's there is full or boarded up.

And we are all absorbed with paying for water and TDs' expenses while the ground is taken out from under us.

On Sunday, I went to look at the Christmas lights with some family who were in Cork for the day. Twinkling lights, Christmas jumpers and bobbing horses on the carousel couldn't obscure the human tragedy that we are literally tripping over on our streets.

After passing at least five people in a five-minute walk I bent to give a few euro to a guy sitting on Patrick Street, and asked him how he was. His response? "Someone robbed my tent".

angry

Somebody, probably somebody else to whom a tent is the difference between a dry night and a night of wet, cold, wakefulness, took his tent.

He was angry, but more than anything, he was gutted. We all work hard to keep our heads above water, but Ian spends hours every day walking out of the city to find somewhere safe to pitch his tent.

I promised him we'd try and get him sorted through the radio show I work on, but as I walked back to the bus stop I remembered that I had bought my husband a tent a few years ago that was never used.

When I got home I found it, and a few other bits and pieces, packed up some stew that had been in the slow cooker all day.

I then drove down a glittering street, through hordes of happy families, and pulled, to run over and give Ian the few bits I'd found.

I apologised that I couldn't help him more, but what I was really apologising for was the sheer bloody luck that put me where I am and not where he is.

I was apologising for the privilege that gave me a stable family and a roof over my head and a dog that has a better life than Ian does.

He didn't care. For that few minutes he was the king of the world, and it broke my heart.

His eyes lit up when he saw the jacket I'd brought him. I apologised again. "What are you saying sorry for? You've given me a home! Not many 29 year olds can say they own their own home!" I'm 29, too.

I went to shake his hand, and wished him a happy Christmas. He gave me a hug. I said goodbye, turned to go, and then remembered the biscuits I had in my pocket.

I turned to hand them to him, and I couldn't meet his eye because there I was walking back to my warm car and my warm home and there he was with a cheap tent and a few biscuits and a hippy stew and he was king of the world for that few minutes.

As I walked back to my car, I passed three more young men sitting on the footpath.

Just the next day, we learned that Jonathan Corrie, sleeping rough in Dublin, had died right across the street from the Dáil.

march

Thousands of people have marched against Irish Water, and we are finally seeing people saying they've had enough.

Well, I've had enough. I don't mind paying the tax I pay and more if it means that there is a security net there for Ian and for Jonathan Corry and for the nameless, faceless, people I walk past every day whose eyes I cannot meet.

I don't mind paying it if I know that there is a safety net there for me, if in two pay cheques' time I lose my job and cannot keep up my mortgage repayments.

I don't mind paying it if it means that walking down the street is not a constant reminder of the absolute failure of our society to look after the people who fall through the cracks, out of the system, or out of mind even though they are constantly within sight.

There is a move afoot to make the December 10 water march a fundraiser for Simon, to show that this is not just about water, that it is about the kind of society we have and what our priorities are.

I hope that move succeeds, because while we are all distracted by Irish Water and I'm a Celebrity and Christmas shopping our society is crumbling, and, constantly distracted, we are allowing it to fall.


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