By Jason Michael
It is so wonderful that the misery of those sleeping rough this winter is making it to the news again. Maybe this Christmas Santa will come with a sack packed full of homes for everyone sleeping on the street. More than likely he won’t though.
Days before Christmas, as if right on cue, homelessness is at the pinnacle of Ireland’s news cycle. Every year it is the same thing; the members of comfortable class get squeamish as they elbow their way from shop to shop looking for the ideal gift for the perfect Christmas at the sight of shivering bodies wrapped in sleeping bags in doorways. Human beings dumped on the litter heap of society are more easily ignored during the more pleasant months and from the distance of the leafy suburbs, but at this – most wonderful – time of the year they are forced to come to town in the cold and they are confronted with the detritus of Irish living – the rough sleepers.
What is gossip among ladies who lunch, the world over, becomes human interest on the five o’clock news. As though from nowhere a plea is made for the poor unfortunates who have been left, like Jonathan Corrie and scores of others, to die on the streets. What makes it to the news, what pricks the conscience of the propertied class, makes it to the Dáil chamber and ministers and TDs clutch their pearls and talk about change – change that never comes. Every year it is the same thing, the government responds to the news and the pleas with eloquent words and everyone hopes to ride the story out until January when the well-to-do are planning their summer vacations.
Talk of the homeless and “action” for the same has become the nearest thing in Ireland to a winter Olympic sport. But, like all games, it has its season and their whimsical minds wander off to more interesting things… until next Christmas. Talk of the homeless, that part of the talk that makes it to the evening news, is about facts and figures; it is concerned with what is being done to keep people warm and fed over the holidays. No one – bar no one – is ever allowed to ask why our sisters and brothers are out on the street, and when we ask they why the answer is always the same: “That is not for us to answer.” We can ask why we ended up in recession because it threatened their wealth and privilege. This is a thing we can inquire into; why this happened to them, but all is quiet when we ask why this is happening to those on the street.
Yet every now and then we get a glimpse into their thinking on homelessness. You won’t get this from a government minister or a news caster, and you won’t get this from the refined ladies at lunch or the bankers. You will get it from their younglings – the uncompleted chips from the old block. Be it the YouTube famous Foxrock “KPMG Girl” or one of the kids from the €5,000 a year Belvedere College out earning his social conscience get-out-of-jail-free card shaking a bucket to “help the homeless.” In their world “success” is the education their parents can buy and the career their mothers and fathers can hook them up with. “Failure” is something one does all by one’s self.
How else can pubescents trained thus make sense of women and men sleeping rough than personal failure? They are, to quote KPMG Girl, “Losers.” Indeed they are losers. They have lost everything we in our homes can imagine – and not even their lives are safe from this loss, but the reasons are not on the official script. Had the reason for Sharon being set alight while she slept in a doorway be her lack of a decent education and her failure to find a well-paid job then the Social Welfare’s gallant attempts to teach the unemployed of the inner city computer skills would make perfect sense.
That the reason for all economic and social inequalities is the wealth of the privileged is a truth the privileged simply cannot allow themselves to accept. A home for Sharon or one for Jonathan before he froze to death would require equitable taxation, it would mean a little less for Christmas – and that just won’t do. So what will happen is this: The Christmas shopping will get done, a few coins will get thrown into the buckets, and the politicians will get paid to talk a while longer, and eventually January will come. Sharon might make it through the winter. God knows, she might even get turkey and ham at the RDS. But she’ll be waiting until hell freezes over before a home for her gets built.
Belvedere College Sleep Out 2016
Author: Jason Michael (@Jeggit)