Plight of rough-sleepers brought home to me

IT’S been glorious, but it’s over. The late summer, I mean. Boo hiss, now we have to think about wellies and hats and waterproofs, and cycling becomes a rain-lashed ordeal rather than a sunny pleasure.

The relief of coming indoors, to comfort and warmth, is a delight we all take for granted; the bliss of a hot bath, the cosiness of bed. Normal, everyday stuff, so why even mention it?

At seven the other morning, walking my dogs earlier than usual, along the seafront where I live, the sun was shining on all the people sleeping on seafront benches. Rough sleepers — loads of them, dotted along the promenade. They were just starting to wake up. Sleeping bags and cigarettes were being rolled up, as people stretched, and reached for the shoes they had stashed under their benches. Some walked stiffly — those benches are hard — to the nearest public loos, where the only washing facilities are the sinks.

Some had dogs who slept alongside them, loyal and loving. ‘Blimey’, I think. So many rough sleepers out here. Men and women. So many young people.

At four the following morning, the sound of lashing rain and wind battered the window and jolted me awake. I couldn’t go back to sleep, not because I wasn’t tired, nor because my bed was not soft, warm and dry, but because I couldn’t t stop thinking of what it felt like to be inside a wet sleeping bag, a wet coat, wet shoes, wet socks, wet hats, wet clothes. To be out there in the awful ‘night’. Wind making everything impossible. Those endless, wet, cold dark hours. I lay there, in my bed, the roof over my head solid as Stonehenge, wide awake, freaking out at my own helplessness. You can buy rough sleepers hot drinks and sandwiches, you can give them money (and if they spend it on drink or drugs, so bloody what — if you were street-homeless you would, too, to make the immediate awfulness a little less awful, a little more blurry). You can donate to homeless charities, you can volunteer your time, give your old winter clothes, whatever. But still people are homeless. People are still sleeping out. People are still falling through the cracks.

Aren’t we too rich to have people sleeping on our streets, in Ireland and Britain, or anywhere in Western Europe? The chaos of addiction and/ or mental health problems can make some homeless people seem scary or hard to help, or both. Certainly, alcohol and drugs — and the lack of safe residential places for people with poor mental health — add to the rough-sleeper population. But loads of people end up on the streets because they simply could not keep up. Could not keep up with their jobs, their relationships, their families — they fell behind. They fell off the edge. They fell onto the street.

We are all just a few mortgage or rent payments from falling. Instead of walking past those who have, can we help? Can we DO something?


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