Homelessness as a Measure of a Nations Collective Empathy

Challenging events visit everyone during the course of their lives. The death of a loved one, the break down of a relationship, betrayal by someone that was trusted, problems with addiction, post traumatic stress, serious illness, mental health issues or intractable financial problems amongst many, many others.

The most upsetting events often cause people to question long held views and opinions. In the end and after overcoming or dealing with the issue people tend to acquire a measure of wisdom and a deeper understanding of the world they live in and the people that live around them – many of whom may have been previously invisible to them.

Homeless people are invisible to almost everyone.

I have been homeless on three occasions in my life for various reasons. None of which I saw coming. The causes that resulted in my homelessness were composite – a series of creeping, evolving and unforeseen events which over time produced that result.  

I can therefore I think speak about the subject with a certain degree of authority. I do feel that it is important when commenting on social issues that personal experience informs the opinions expressed.

Theoretical analysis and opinions based on studying a subject or working with those impacted by an issue can help a person without first hand experience still express very valid observations or create policy or author legislation. But that too very much depends on the emotional intelligence of the person in question.

It is my opinion that in modern Ireland our politicians, commentators, policy makers, charities and agencies are populated with people who are professional wafflers with little or no understanding of the social context of many of the constituents who it is their duty to serve.

Homelessness is an unacceptable condition for even one citizen of this nation to be experiencing. I often overhear or hear first hand comments like – “junkie”, “alco”, “mental”, “gambler”, “irresponsible”, “get a job”, “work like the rest of us”, “lazy” – when people are discussing homelessness.

Life is lived on a knife edge, a slight deviation right or left on that knife edge can result in utter desolation.

Homelessness is not just the state of not having a home. It causes the afflicted to suffer myriad other side effects – humiliation, degradation, loneliness, to question self worth, hunger and the kind of pain that hurts your soul.

Men, women and children in their thousands are being allowed to wallow in this pit of despair and downward spiral and after the initial furore surrounding street deaths of homeless people the debate has become muted and an attitude of resigned acceptance has once again settled in.

The collective empathy of a nation is measured by its attitude to certain phenomena. In Ireland, the Irish pride themselves on being welcoming, friendly and generous to visitors and market that internationally to attract tourists.

How I wonder would this sit with the opinion of the young man I walked past yesterday on the Ha’Penny Bridge on a sunny day in August with hundreds of others walking past him every hour – many in Dublin and Donegal jerseys on their way to “Croker” for the game. Smiling faces, laughter, ice creams, enjoyed in the company of family and friends.

And there he sat with a plastic cup that held of few brown coins and a look in his eyes that showed that he held little or no hope. He did not look angry. He did not look sad. He looked like he had come to the realisation that nobody and no one gave a damn one way or the other and that like the very few pieces of litter that blow around what was once “dirty Dublin” – he too was simply an object to be walked around while grimacing slightly.

Dublin does not suffer from a rubbish problem like it once did, instead now it’s streets contain human litter – the discarded elements of our society that Ireland has chosen to sacrifice in favour of austerity, cow-towing to the troika and gifting tax breaks to global conglomerates.

We should as a nation be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves and may God forgive us for being the exact opposite to what we portray ourselves as.

Deadly Force or Deadly Neglect – The Unjustified Killing of "Africa"

The issue of homelessness combined with untreated or misinterpreted mental health issues is a volatile mix. Additionally, law enforcement and their equivalents – correction officers and so on – face a constant threat to personal safety that adds another dimension to the circumstances that lead to the use of deadly force in seemingly benign scenarios. 

The shooting dead of this man on Skid Row in LA earlier this month – simply known as “Africa” to his friends and whose name remains unidentified or unreleased – by several clearly physically fit and armed law enforcement officers, and fully captured on video, is utterly unacceptable in circumstances where with a proper approach he could have been restrained effectively. 

The constant debate on the issue and polarized public opinion struggle with what is the highly complex blend of ingredients that make up this problem. It is easy to judge but the contributing factors are so complex that these shootings will continue and provide material for commentators on all sides of the debate to push their agenda. 

Meanwhile the homeless remain homeless and the mentally ill remain untreated and continue to suffer abuse on the streets where few have made the choice to live but nonetheless find themselves there. 

Peace.