SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Outside the Box: It’s bad behaviour to blame the homeless

What’s your biggest fear? Being eaten feet first by sharks? Spiders nesting in your ear? Being thrown off a roof by frothing maniacs?

Mine is street homelessness. Not having a door, some walls, and a ceiling is my biggest fear. I cannot think of anything worse.

In fact for those of us who do have doors, walls, and ceilings, street homelessness is so unthinkable — physically, psychologically, materially, practically, spiritually — that instead of having a collective freak-out that it exists for even one single individual in an economy as affluent as ours, what do we do? We blame the homeless for their homelessness.

Dirty drug addicts and filthy drunks, with their chaotic lifestyles and their fractured families. Get a job, loser.

Look at you — you must be making a fortune sitting there with your ‘hungry and homeless’ bit of cardboard. You’ll probably spend all that spare change on drink and drugs anyway.

Look at you with your mobile phone — some of us have to work for a living. Smarten up, get on your bike, sort your life out. Try harder.

Homelessness, as you will no doubt have heard from the head of Dublin’s Homeless Executive, is caused by “bad behaviour, or behaviour that isn’t the behaviour of you and me”.

See what she did there? Us and Them. ‘We’ know how to behave, with our mortgages and family cars and clean clothes, our dental care and our five-a-day.

‘They’ are so badly behaved they have ended up sleeping outdoors in nylon sleeping bags subsisting on our small change, cans of strong lager, and tireless outreach workers.

Eileen Gleeson, how about you read Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey. His book is prefaced by a poem from the great Glasgow poet Tom Leonard, a poem called ‘Liaison Co ordinator’, which is a job title almost as redundant as Homeless Executive.

Almost as redundant as you may soon be yourself, if you continue to show such catastrophic lack of humanity in a post that is all about assisting the most disadvantaged humanity in the land.

And yes, street homeless people are very often drug and alcohol addicts with serious mental health issues brought on by a lifetime of stress, hyper-vigilance, failing systems, low expectation, zero privilege. In other words, poverty.

So what do we do? We criminalise drug addiction and jail addicts (while condoning alcohol addiction).

We demonise the underclass, and do our utmost to ignore homelessness, until it spills onto our cold, wet streets.

Then our Taoiseach comments on how such homelessness is bad for Ireland’s image, and anyway, compared with other places, it could be much worse.

For who, exactly? Because the 8,374 people in emergency accommodation might possibly disagree.

As would all those sleeping outdoors tonight on our streets.

How many of ‘Us’ are just a few pay slips from homelessness ourselves, eh, Ms Homeless Executive?


Kim Sheehan is an opera singer from Crosshaven, Co Cork, and is this year’s recipient of the Jane Anne Rothwell Award from Cork Midsummer Festival.A Question of Taste: Cork opera singer, Kim Sheehan

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