herald

Sunday 17 November 2019

'People are no longer shocked by plight of homeless' - McVerry

The shocking photo of little ‘Sam’
The shocking photo of little ‘Sam’

Campaigner Peter McVerry has said his greatest fear is that homelessness was now being normalised in Irish society.

It follows the publication of the photo of a five-year-old boy, known only as Sam, eating his dinner from a cardboard plate while sitting on a Dublin street.

Fr McVerry warned that the image represented an "emperor with no clothes" moment for the Government after years of claiming progress was being made in the battle against homelessness across Ireland.

Speaking in Cork during a visit to the Penny Dinners charity, he said people were slowly losing their sense of moral outrage at something no society should ever accept.

Strategy

"A little five-year-old boy eating his dinner on the street from a cardboard box. We should be outraged. But we move on. Things become normalised. We're no longer shocked," he said.

Fr Peter McVerry at Penny Dinners in Cork with director Caitriona Twomey.
Fr Peter McVerry at Penny Dinners in Cork with director Caitriona Twomey.

In a scathing assessment of government policy, Fr McVerry said that while homelessness figures continue to rise, the administration claims its strategy is working.

"But virtually every single month for the last three years the number of homeless people has gone up. The emperor has no clothes. The emperor won't acknowledge that they have no clothes," he said.

Fr McVerry warned that other countries were not blind to what is going on in Ireland.

The photo of Sam went viral on social media and was reported across Ireland and Europe.

"When the number of homeless children in Ireland soared past 1,000, it made national headlines," said Fr McVerry.

"It created a huge stir, but then the number of homeless children passed 2,000 and it got a small bit of attention.

"Then it passed 3,000. Soon it's going to pass 4,000. When something exists for a period of months, it becomes the norm and we're longer shocked."

Fr McVerry's visit to Cork came in the wake of two violent attacks on homeless people.

One left a man fighting for his life in the Mercy University Hospital (MUH), while the other resulted in the death of homeless chef Timothy 'Timmy' Hourihane (53).

Mr Hourihane regularly depended on the Cork Penny Dinners services.

The Bantry-born chef had been offered accommodation in Cork but was living in a tent at the time of his death.

He suffered from a severe alcohol problem.

Fr McVerry said some homeless people need more than accommodation.

"People are complex. They have complex needs and we need to recognise that they have complex needs," he said.

"It's not a simple black or white 'He had accommodation, he chose not to take it' situation.

"You have to do more than provide accommodation for some homeless people. You also have to provide support services.

"We shouldn't be blaming homeless people for the situation they're in.

"The idea of giving someone a bed for one night and then putting them out in the morning is an insult to the dignity of homeless people."

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