The human tragedy that is homelessness in Dublin is growing day by day and Aisling Connolly is just one victim of a system that seems to be letting the most in need down badly.
Aisling, 29, originally from Athlone, has spoken to the media previously about being homeless on the streets of Dublin. She’s raised issues about being bullied, harassed and she’s also spoken about the inhumanity thrust upon the homeless.
It seems once you are stripped of a home and loving support network, you are stripped of dignity and the respect each one of us deserves from society.
Perhaps what is interesting about this young woman is her spirit. She washes her clothes at launderettes even though she beds down in freezing temperatures in her tent.
She goes for showers in swimming pools and still wears make-up and keeps clean. For many living rough in the city, they are too busy clinging on to survival to worry about such matters but for Aisling these are the things that help her cling onto humanity.
She’s tried to gain help through the system but so far she seems to have fallen through the cracks. But only if you sat and actually talked to her, would you realise, she has so much potential. Despite hours and months on the street, Aisling is still sharp and intelligent and it seems apparent if she was given a chance, she could change her life for the better.
But questions should be asked just why people aren’t being given a chance to rebuild? Why are they being placed in a State system that seems to let them down? Why isn’t there affordable rent in Dublin? Why hasn’t more social housing been built when the homeless statistics are increasing each week? Surely, even reductions in VAT for developers and builders, would be better than this? And don’t we have so many properties lying empty? WHY?
Aisling and everyone like her matters just as much as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar or Bono, yet as a society we only seem to value the rich and powerful. And homeless people in our country seem to be falling further and further down our priority list as powerful echoes of the Celtic Tiger re-emerge.
Huge property prices and exorbitant consumer spending are the zeitgeist of this new, emerging economy, dubbed the Phoenix. But when a bird rises from the ashes, does that mean something dies? It seems in our selfishness, our greed, that indeed seems to be the case. Because property prices should never come above human need. The minute we place them above is the moment we lose our humanity and an essence of what we are.
You can walk by that homeless person quite easily. You can tell yourself they aren’t like you, they’re drug addicts, alcoholics, or hey, they’re just bums who need to get a job. Some people actually seem to believe this mantra is just fine.
But what Aisling told the Irish Independent recently should make each one of us feel remorse. Because every homeless person is just like you, just like me – but sadly their life took a turn which landed them in dire straits. And that, my friend, is also a place where any of us could wind up. If we arrive there, we’d hope for more than being mentally mistreated, made feel small and refused any real, tangible and lasting support.
“It makes me very upset. I’m scared to be living in a tent, it’s not going to be Christmas,” she said. “I’m afraid I won’t live to see Christmas, that I won’t live through this weather or stress. It’s so cold out here. I’m afraid I won’t wake up,” Aisling told the Irish Independent.
“I’m sick, I keep getting chest infections and it feels like the world has forgotten I’m here.”
For many of us our job, status, family, friends, and material wealth, are what defines us in the Phoenix days. Our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook updates show our supposedly authentic faces to this world.
We worry about, for the most part, minor issues, that don’t matter in the great scheme but tonight, once again, Aisling is bedding down in freezing temperatures. And she’s rapidly losing hope. News stories on this crisis have been plentiful but still nothing is changing as the body count of homeless piles up.
The highest number of rough sleepers in Dublin was recorded on November 7. 184 people found on the streets that night, compared with the previous high of 168 in the winter of 2014. There are now more than 8,000 people homeless in Ireland, 3,184 of whom are children.
Two people died on the streets in Dublin last week, a man in his 30s, originally from Lithuania, found unresponsive at the Four Courts on Monday morning and later pronounced dead at the Mater Hospital.
And on Tuesday, a man in his late 50s, was found unresponsive on the grounds of Gonzaga College, Ranelagh, Dublin.
The country sat up for a while. Some of us were disgusted. But were we angry enough to keep the momentum? Do we need to shout and shout loud for this Government to hear this is a human emergency? It’s bigger than Brexit, it’s bigger than a feared property bubble, it’s bigger than you and me. It is you and me. We are them.
If you can sit there and say for sure ‘that’ll never be me,’ or ‘I won’t end up homeless ever,’ with any real certainty, I’d question that notion. For many of us see now, the almighty euro, the rich, the powerful, take precedence over 3,184 homeless children. And not one of those children deserved a home, not even a modest home, to call their own.
If Ireland’s innocent children don’t matter, why would we assume, if our lives take the wrong turn – we lose a job, we have a breakdown, etc – then we would matter to this State? After all, the homeless don’t vote. So, do they really count?
Aisling will go to bed tonight again fearing she’ll not wake up tomorrow. Everyone out there on the street, no doubt, feels the same tonight. Children will go to bed in cramped conditions, sometimes two and three buses from school, with nowhere to play or ask friends to visit. They are stigmatised by a poverty, an isolation and unfairness, they do not own.
This Christmas, at Ireland Today, we are asking our readers to think beyond the consumer mindset and to remember those in severe need. Consider putting at least a little of the money you were planning to blow this season, into helping our homeless. If this is a euro or a little more, that’s great! It will still help the homeless remember there is a Christmas and there are people who care.
Hopefully then, if it is you or I tomorrow, we will find a kinder face and a warmer hand to help lift us up when we fall.
If you would like to help Aisling Connolly get off the streets to rebuild her life consider donating a few euro here
If you’d like to direct your Irish Water refund to helping the homeless, log onto www.refundproject.ie where the Simon Community, Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust are raising money to build permanent homes.