Comments by a local authority official, that homelessness takes “years of bad behaviour”, showed no awareness of the role trauma plays in people’s lives, according to the director of Cork Simon.
Dermot Kavanagh said Eileen Gleeson, director of the Dublin Region Homelessness Executive, “seemed to be almost suggesting that people, if they are homeless, it’s in some way their own fault”.
“First of all, there are a lot of people who become homeless simply as an aspect of poverty,” said Mr Kavanagh, adding that “homelessness itself is an extremely traumatic experience”.
“But there are a lot of people who become homeless because they have had difficulties in their lives and have experienced huge levels of trauma in their childhood, such as abuse, neglect, family breakdown, addiction in the family.
“And they’ve maybe developed addictions themselves and that influenced their pathway into homelessness.”
Mr Kavanagh said he was “very shocked” by Ms Gleeson’s comments, which were made before a Dublin City Council policing committee earlier this week. He said he would hate if they “led people to believe that there are deserving and undeserving categories of homelessness”.
“Everybody is absolutely deserving. A right to a home is fundamental to having a level playing field in society. You haven’t a hope of making your way in life if you don’t have the very basics of a place to live in. And very often if you’ve had traumatic experiences which you had no control over when you were growing up, surely you deserve health and support to overcome those,” said Mr Kavanagh.
In relation to Ms Gleeson’s comment that homeless people can be “quite happy to continue with the chaotic lifestyle they have”, Mr Kavanagh said: “I don’t really buy that one”.
He said in his experience, not very many homeless people choose to sleep out, that their decision to live on the street may be influenced by “fears of the shelter system, psychiatric issues, trauma-related issues”.
He added: “But I wouldn’t say that there are people who enjoy the lifestyle. It’s where they are at. It’s about what feels safest for them at that time. And our approach would be to engage with people like that and have alternatives that they feel are safe and adequate.”
Mr Kavanagh said he “half agreed” with Ms Gleeson’s comment that a “cup of soup” is not helpful if you are homeless. She was referring to volunteer groups who give out free food and clothing.
“I kind of would agree with the view that when you are providing those very basic forms of help that that should be a means to get people to link in at a greater level with the supports and services that are available.”
For instance, Cork Simon’s soup run is a way of engaging with people and linking them in with the services, he said.
In relation to giving money to homeless people, he said there are “different views across the homeless sector” but that he is “very reluctant to criticise anyone who sees somebody in poverty and distress asking for money, and who decides to give it”.
“That’s just a relatively natural instinct,” he said.
Cork Simon’s annual report for 2016, published recently, showed record numbers accessing its emergency shelter at Anderson’s Quay.
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