Spending and homelessness: We need to rebalance our priorities

Great communicators make powerful arguments in pithy, undeniable, one-liners.

Spending and homelessness: We need to rebalance our priorities

Great communicators make powerful arguments in pithy, undeniable, one-liners. American Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden has one he has used for several years, but it has lost none of its punch. It transcends play-the-crowd politicians’ spoofing.

It reeks of the acid of truth: “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.” A political Exocet, it is concise, direct, and to the point. There is no wriggle room, no escape hatch. Maybe we should consider how we might score on the Biden metric.

Despite an escalating housing crisis, we are, as that other political Exocet describes, more or less doing the same thing we’ve always done, but expecting a different outcome. All efforts to confront this toxic crisis have been, on political, ideological, cultural and practical levels, failures. Over the weekend, there was a harrowing example of where this light-touch commitment to social obligation or justice leads.

Timothy Hourihane, 53, a homeless alcoholic, was beaten to death near the tent he was living in on Cork City’s Western Road. It was one of 18 tents in the area. Gardaí say he may have been the victim of more than one assault.

Tragically, Hourihane’s death is no longer untypical; many homeless people die on our streets. More ever year, it seems. The direct cause of death is, sadly, almost academic. Abandoned or lost souls are left to their fate in one of the world’s richest societies. Ours is the most affluent Ireland has known.

The site proposed for Cork’s long-awaited events centre is a 10-minute walk from where Hourihane was murdered. The State has committed €40m to this enriching project, one that should, when it is delivered, add momentum to Cork’s development.

Nevertheless, the Biden metric demands an answer: Should we, in the midst of an accelerating housing crisis, commit €40m to a project like an events centre? Mothballing that project, or any other project like it — it is just one of many examples — would not end homelessness, but maybe we should review our priorities.

That €40m would go a long way to resolving the city’s housing crisis, even if the argument that development generates income to confront one social crisis or another is as true as it ever was.

The weekend tragedy is an extreme example, but the thousands of people in inadequate accommodation, languishing on housing lists, or trapped in the rent-forever snare might have priorities other than an events centre.

That doubt is deepened by ever-louder warnings that government relies unwisely on corporation tax receipts for day-to-day spending. Responding to the budget, the Fiscal Advisory Council warns that excess corporation tax receipts continue to “flatter”.

To use the vernacular, this may suggest we’ve bought a BMW with the redundancy money. It is simplistic to argue that not building an events centre would end the housing crisis, but the unavoidable juxtaposition raises fundamental questions — questions we can’t ignore, while those failures are regarded as no more than collateral damage in our thriving, gung-ho economy.

Timothy Hourihane has been silenced, but can we really pretend we don’t hear his cries?

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