Apparently, our economy is growing. Apparently, our governing parties are cleaning up the mess left by a corrupt and greedy Fianna Fail. Yes, there are plenty of 152-D BMWs, Range Rovers, Audis and even Mercedes mercilessly clamped in South Dublin City villages again. The restaurants of D4 and D6 are full again. The wine snobs are out in force once more.
But there are people living on our streets and today, with a definite autumn chill in the air, Dublin, and Ireland’s, homelessness crisis is standing on the brink of a national emergency set against a timer made of frost, freezing rain and fifteen hours of darkness every day.
I have often complained about being broke. It’s not easy being a single mother on extended sick leave from work. I am longing for the day when I no longer rely on my Department of Social Protection (and I say “my” because they work for me and all of my fellow citizens) or my ever generous family to help me put food on the table and hot water in the tank as well to to rebuild for my daughter and me some quality of living, rather than just maintaining some meagre existence inevitably leading to a store of aggressive creditors sending threatening letters demanding I pay the balance in full, or else.
I donate five euro per month to the McVerry trust, five euro to the Rape Crisis Centre and ten euro to Concern. Twenty quid is hardly anything, I know, but after many rounds of budgeting, it’s at the maximum end of our allotted charity funds. Someday soon, I hope to be able to up the amounts.
The other day, I noticed a new-to-the-area homeless man outside the Tesco Express across the street. I wanted to approach him to offer him something. I was nervous about it, not wanting to offend him but also feeling socially awkward about it. I took the dogs out on their usual poop route and resolved to say hello and offer something small to the man. By the time, I got back to his spot, he’d been asked/ordered to leave the area by the manager of the Tesco, I was told by a lovely chap who works there. This employee told me his boss had had a go at him for buying the homeless man a tea and a sandwich. He wasn’t even outside the Tesco but beside it at the entrance to a narrow laneway. What gave this manager the right to feel he could move the man on (I’m reluctant to keep calling him “the homeless man” as he is so much more than that label)? I don’t know.
I was annoyed with myself for being so caught up with my own reaction that I delayed and then missed him. Not that I could solve everything for him or make his day instantly better (I’m working on the god complex) but still, that four euro would have been better in his pocket than mine.
This morning when I took the dogs out for their first wee of the day, I spotted him back at the laneway entrance and chatting to the same Tesco employee who had bought him lunch the other day. As soon as I got the dogs in, I grabbed the four fifty in cash I had in my purse and went over to him. I explained that I had missed him the other day and he said that I must be the girl that the friendly Tesco employee had mentioned to him. I introduced myself and we shook hands and he told me his name. I said I’m always out with the dogs so he’ll see me cleaning up after them. I apologised for not being able to give him more but I’m fairly broke at the moment. And then the most heartwreching and humbling thing smacked me in the face, just as a good old dollop of cold cop-on-to-yourself does: he said he was actually alright for today, put out his hand with the coins in it and said “Hold on to it love if you’re stuck”.
I felt every previous utterance of the words “I’m so broke” churn in my throat as I realised, not for the first time, the place of privilege and self absorption from which I view the world. I saw my home and family flash before my eyes and I thought how damned lucky I am that I’m not the one hoping not to be run from outside Tesco. And it could be me, it could be any of us.
I don’t know what realm of consciousness our government lives in, it certainly isn’t one of clear sighted reality. Experts in the field of homelessness are blue in the face trying to force this administration to act. There seems to me and everyone else who reads the accounts from Fr Peter McVerry, Focus and Simon, hard facts and workable solutions if our elected representatives would only engage.
I do not subscribe to the “charity begins at home” and “look after our own” first wave of narrow-minded thinking. I think there is enough money and goodwill in this country to offer succour to Syrian refugees, victims of weapon of war sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, our homeless and anyone else who needs it. Ireland cannot solve all of the world’s cruelty and injustices but we can learn from our own tragic and bitter past – the subjugation we, as a nation and as a subservient Catholic flock faced and our resilience in breaking free of these oppressions- and we can try to be better, fairer and more compassionate than our historic oppressors ever were.
Every life matters. Every life can be a good one.