These are the words a homeless man said to me on a Dublin street earlier this week.
The man pulled up his sleeve to reveal severe scaring from self-harm. This man is one of many hundreds sleeping rough in Ireland. The Simon Community estimate there are over 2,800 adults living in emergency accommodation in Dublin alone. Plenty of commentators talk about the plans for extra social housing and the €1.3 billion for housing or plans for an extra 3,000 emergency accommodation units but who is really there behind these figures?
The harsh reality of the homeless crises in Ireland is that people can no longer sit quietly on the ground with an empty coffee cup in front of them. So many are in need of help and money and people need to tell their story just to get enough money for some food or a place in a hostel. In a report earlier this year, Barnardos told the story of a family from Cork who were forced to sleep in their car. It was three weeks before they were eventually given emergency accommodation in a hotel. These are the stories and cases behind the figures we read.
Just recently we heard the story of Sarah O’Rourke and her partner who have been forced to live in a tent in the Phoenix Park. Ms O’Rourke has been using various homeless services in recent years but is now forced to live in a tent. “Don’t fear me” the homeless man I spoke to was so desperate not to scare me and also desperate to tell his story. He was extremely brave to share his story and bare his scars. These are just 3 stories of homeless people in our capital city and there are approximately 3,000 more.
Our streets have become lined with discarded blankets and broken cardboard boxes which act as the most basic beds but as the winter approaches this will not be enough. In a HSE report, a 400% increase was shown in A&E admissions made up of homeless people between 2005 and 2014. The report found 57% of homeless people admitted to A&E had a mental illness. Being homeless means more than having no address. This pressure of being in this crisis situation seriously affects the physical and mental health of those people with no home. With 1,000 families living in emergency accommodation, it affects children and their access to education and equal opportunities which every child in Ireland should have.
We face many difficult challenges in Ireland today; Brexit and the economy, the 8th amendment, mental health and even more. It is impossible to rate these issues in terms of importance but there is little doubt that homelessness is one of the most important issues facing Ireland today. Many people’s mortgages are still in arrears and it is very possible for many more Irish people to become homeless. Everybody should have a home and nobody should have to bear the scars of self-harm to convince people to hand over enough money for a cup of tea. Nobody should be living in a car and nobody should be living in a tent. But this is Ireland 2016 and these things happen every day, I have seen them and I am outraged. This can’t go on.