One of the most influential authors of her generation has encouraged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy to spend a day volunteering in a homeless shelter.
Award-winning author and columnist Louise O’Neill, whose book Asking For It challenged society to confront rape culture and issues of consent, said spending time on the frontline of Ireland’s homeless crisis could challenge our political leaders to approach the homeless crisis differently.
“Once you are exposed to that, to how dark some of these places can be and how lonely it can be inside there, I think you would realise how pressing this issue is and that it’s something that needs to be addressed urgently,” said O’Neill.
In a powerful keynote address at the launch of Cork Simon’s 2017 annual report yesterday, Ms O’Neill spoke of how her time volunteering with Cork Simon at Christmas over several years in her twenties changed her perception of homelessness, and made her realise that homelessness can happen to anyone, as a result of trauma, bereavement, the loss of a job, or just bad luck.
Speaking afterwards, she said: “When you realise that any one of us is vulnerable to becoming homeless, it becomes apparent that this is an issue that, as a society, we have to collectively work together to eradicate.
“I volunteered in India when I was 21 and obviously the scale of homelessness there is enormous.
“But in a country as small as Ireland, it’s still something that could be tackled if politicians just decided it was an issue they were going to put to the top of the agenda, which is something that as society we all need to urge them to do.”
She also criticised recent rhetoric, particularly online, in relation to the homeless, and cited that case of mother of seven Margaret Cash, 28, who was forced to sleep with some of her children on the floor of a garda station.
O’Neill said people jumped to conclusions and cast aspersions on her life decisions as “if it were a national sport”.
“Shouldn’t our first response have been alarm?” she said. “Shouldn’t we have been more concerned about the safety of her children rather than speculating about the whereabouts of their father?
“Homelessness is an issue we must work together to eliminate. Because until all of us are safe and protected then none of us are.”