This Christmas, let’s work on our sense of community

By Caitriona McMahon

And so the season of goodwill has arrived. Fairy lights decorating windows with wreaths on doorways. Christmas spirit is very much alive.

Among all the street lights this week, I pulled in my car to check on a homeless man sitting by a bin. The sight of him sitting at the base of a bin said more than words could. Hundreds of people walked past some even stepped out on the road to avoid passing him and later feeling guilty for not giving something.

Avoidance seemed to be a better option for people at the time. Teens were messing creating trouble opposite him.  I got back into my car and as I drove off I saw the man rush off grabbing his cup of coins. I continued to indicate and pull out when a person stood in front of my car and took a picture of my license plate. Two days later I received a summons in the post for parking in a taxi rank.

I won’t lie, my blood boiled. Did that man with the camera notice the homeless man shivering, bewildered and alone? No.

Instead they chose to see what they wanted – a person parked on a taxi rank without asking the reason. The €40 I have no issue with paying however I feel that €40 should go to the homeless man who was ignored that night.

Instead of feeling a sense of security seeing someone coming, he ran in fear he would also be fined. Had he been fined, he possibly would not have had the money to pay for shelter that night.

There were sub-zero temperatures yet nothing was colder than the reaction of the passers-by that particular night. The relationship between homelessness and mental health issues is multi-directional.

Having poor mental health can leave people feeling vulnerable and often there are many barriers that prevent them accessing care. But no barrier is greater than lack of humanity from others.

Change is something that affects us all and if in the morning you found yourself homeless with no option but to sleep on the streets what would you need most? For me the answer is to be treated like a human.

We can’t change everyone’s lives overnight but we can change the life of that one person in that moment. Giving also has a powerful impact on the givers mental health. It gives a feel good factor.

We need to mind each other in these tough times. Resurrect community spirit and care for each other.

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