Just cold comfort for those who fell through the cracks

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

A woman stopped traffic on the road outside the hospital as she dragged her bedding to the other side to make a nest for herself for the night in sub-zero temperatures with a wind chill factor to add to the freeze.

An empty bed of dirty sleeping bags lay untouched in the side archway of a city centre church all day, awaiting the return of its occupant who at least knew one thing – nobody was going to steel his pathetic possessions.

A young couple lay snuggled and surprisingly happy, under a duvet in the middle of the busiest thoroughfare in the city.

Two men bedded down under the shelter of a shop arch – protecting them from the threat of rain, but doing nothing to insulate them from the biting cold.

And the city wasn’t Chicago or New York during the Great Depression – it’s Galway, December 2016.

Being homeless is the greatest indignity at any time of the year, but when the rest of us spend millions on a single day’s celebration, it is shocking to see others clinging to dirty blankets to keep the hypothermia at bay.

And yes, more often than not, homelessness of this level is self-inflicted – through alcoholism or addiction – but it is also the result of mental illness, violence in the home, an inability to cope with life or just a terrible run of luck.

COPE, the Galway charity at the coalface when it comes to homelessness, recently reported a 23 per cent increase in the number of families who came to its doors for help last year.

But they also revealed that they was unable to accommodate 288 women and 405 children who were seeking safety from domestic violence due to a lack of space at their Waterside House Refuge in 2015.

The charity also worked with 1,600 households across Galway city and county in 2015 alone – and of these, 659 households (with 369 children) were either experiencing or were at risk of homelessness, while 380 women and their 180 children were affected by domestic violence.

There is so much spoken of the new homeless; those who simply cannot afford a home because the vulture funds are buying up the apartment blocks at bargain prices so that someone else can make a fortune on the backs of the ordinary people once again.

But even then – and with all due respect to those families who find themselves in the completely unacceptable word of relocating from emergency accommodation from one night to the next – there is a world between not having a home and living on the streets.

They used to say that we’re all three pay cheques away from a crisis; for many, that time scale would represent a luxury.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.