herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

The little Dubliners with a roof over their heads ... but no home

Terry Prone
Terry Prone

Ask any Dubliner about homelessness and watch where they look. Instinctively, they glance to one side.

That's what people do as they retrieve a memory. You can almost see in their faces the moment the picture pops up, obligingly, out of their long-term memory.

Each of us Dubs has our own version of that picture. It's the couple in a sleeping bag in that side street beside the old parliament building owned by Bank of Ireland, their pale faces illuminated by the light from the nearby Starbucks.

Or it's the young fellow with the baseball cap pulled right down over his face, half-seated against the pillar of a Georgian door.

Or even the accumulation of rags with the remnants of a human somewhere inside it, with a big empty cider bottle standing like a sentry close to the grey face.

We Dubliners know what homelessness looks like. We have seen it. We have seen it many times. Homelessness is highly visible on our streets. So highly visible that anybody who walks the city knows the preferred spots for those who have know home to go to.

Or do we? Do we really know what homelessness looks like, these days?

Maybe we need to look again at our vision of the crumpled figures clutching their shopping bags, even in their slumped sleep.

Because the latest figures make it clear that not all homelessness is visible to us. It is not visible to us because we tend to assume two things about homelessness.

The first is that it involves adults. The second assumption we make is that the homeless person has the sky - and only the sky - as a roof over their head.

If either of those beliefs were ever true, it's a certainty that they no longer represent the total reality of homelessness. This major issue now involves children, too, although we may not be able to identify those unfortunate children on sight.

tragic

Sometimes those children do actually have a roof over their head. It's just not their own roof, belonging to their own home, because what they are experiencing is a new version of an older problem. They are not houseless. They are homeless. There is a tragic difference.

Nor does this condition affect a mere handful of children in our capital city. Figures just released indicate that close to 1,000 of what the TV ads call "our little ones" are now living in hotel rooms and B&Bs. They have a roof over their head. They have food and warmth.

What they don't have is home, a place where - as the poet said - "when you have to go there, they have to let you in." A place where you have your own corner of defensible space. Where your mother can cook in a real kitchen, where your older brother can study in his bedroom, where your sister can play music in another room.

It doesn't matter how small or how untidy a house is once it's the place where you feel you can be yourself.

A single room where everything is stacked in cardboard boxes, where there's nowhere to hide or take pride in, is a horrible experience to inflict on a child.

This is another version of homelessness and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) says the local authorities are at full stretch trying to solve the problem posed to families by this new, highly stressful situation.

Getting a six year old ready for school is a challenge in a normal setting. It's a nightmare when you have an entire family trying to live within four borrowed walls.

Government housing strategy will take time to come on-stream because it requires that homes have to be built. "In the meantime," says Stephen Large of the housing charity Threshold, "tenants are caught between a rock and a hard place with rising rents."

In our beloved capital city many human consequences of housing problems are self-evident.

Hundreds of invisible children, caught between a rock and hard place, with no prospect of an immediate and permanent escape, are not.

They silently represent a grim new picture of homelessness.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News