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The Simon Community’s homelessness awareness week revealed a stark truth: most of us sleep in our beds at night knowing that others huddle outside in the cold and rain.
The number of people sleeping rough is increasing. The Simon shelter in Cork always had spare beds; now it turns away 20 people each night.
Despite the heroic work of Simon, Edel House and of volunteers, nationwide, government funding to the sector has been slashed. It makes no economic, social or moral sense. That things are reputedly beginning to turn will take a long, long time to trickle down to those for whom the streets are their homes.
We need a community response to this blight, and the Church, as well as the State and civil society, should step up to the plate and deliver on its mission.
That numerous Church-owned properties remain closed at night, while men, women and children sleep outside (sometimes under their very arches) is anathema to religious teaching and goes against the ethos of Pope Francis, who has urged the Church to be for the poor.
Religious institutions are under financial and moral duress and have reduced personnnel.
But here is an opportunity to re-engage with the communities they serve, and re-invent their relevance with a cross-community response to poverty; to open up their doors and become ‘strongholds to the poor and the needy in distress; a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat’.
Government, in turn, can help fund the training of personnel to co-operate with this mission (with the use of dormant accounts, philanthropic gifts and other funding streams), while simultaneously tackling unemployment and combating social poverty.
It would be a win, win, win situation, with fruits for the short- and long-term.
The statutory Joint Policing Forum brings together Gardai and local and national government and resident groups.
There is a clear need for an equivalent, something like a Joint Social Community Forum, to include civil, religious, charity and volunteer representation and address homelessness, suicide and other issues of poverty in our society.
Putting such structures in place to ensure that all the children of the nation are cherished equally would be the finest way of commemorating our nationhood in these centenary times. This would be better than any plaque or parade; let the eradication of homelessness be this generation’s monumental input to Irish history.
Cllr Mick Finn
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