Published on December 8, 2014
No doubt the outrage over Jonathan Corrie’s death is sincere, but as Alice Leahy of Trust pointed out, the people who are homeless die prematurely every day. They just don’t die in a doorway in sight of the Dáil, and within whistling distance of Dublin’s best known shopping streets. They die in hospitals, mostly. Their deaths don’t usually lead to calls for “something to be done”. It is easy to be cynical, but who remembers Paul Doyle, who died from hypothermia two years ago in Bray? His family, for sure. People at the Five Loaves charity most certainly do. He was due to move into supported housing organised by the charity just two days after he died. But the rest of us? We can all feel sorrow for someone who dies cold and alone, but how many of us would lobby to have supported housing next door? Years ago, my husband and I used to give food to a couple of homeless men who were sleeping rough. One night, when we didn’t answer the doorbell fast enough, one of them put a brick through the front window. Another experience was much more sad. We had developed quite a good relationship with another man out of home called John, who was about our own age. He did not associate with the others, preferring the safety of his own company. He was always clean, and what my mother would have called respectable-looking, although his home was a sleeping bag under bushes. Around Christmas, we had a few friends around for mince pies and mulled wine when John called. Although we had always given him food at the door, on impulse we invited him in. Our friends were a relaxed bunch, and not an eyebrow was raised at the unexpected arrival. It only took me a short time to realise our mistake. John began to tremble visibly. Having been raised on a farm, it reminded me of nothing so much as a hare that my father had brought into the kitchen after a combine harvester had injured it. A shy, gentle, wild creature in mortal terror of the people who were clumsily trying to help. He left, and we never saw him again. You can replace a window. A relationship can be more fragile than glass.