Letter from Cork

Cork correspondent Jim Savage takes another look at the issue of homelessness in the twenty-six county's second city.

THIRTEEN HOMELESS people have died in Cork since last October, a figure which campaigners admit is likely to be an underestimation due to the large numbers of homeless people sleeping rough in the city.

The figures released recently by the Simon community, a charitable organisation which runs hostel accommodation for the homeless, reveal that the life expectancy of rough sleepers is just 42 years.

The figures also highlight that rough sleepers are 150 times more likely to be murdered than the average person, that suicide rates 35 per cent above the norm and that 40 per cent of young homeless women have been physically or sexually abused.

Homeless people who die on the streets are systematically neglected over many months or even years.

As the leading voluntary organisation in the field, and in sharp contrast to the economic ethos of modern Irish society, the philosophy of the Simon community is based on the principles of community acceptance and long-term care. Its shelter in Cork is full nightly and members distribute blankets to some of those sleeping on the street.

A number of the deaths referred to in the recently-released statistics occurred on the Simon premises. Others occurred in squatted accommodation or on the streets.

While carrying out crisis work and campaigning for funding to provide facilities, the group also believes that homelessness is both preventable and reversible.

The question now is what will happen as the winter months advance?

Deprived access to regular meals or any of the other normal comforts that we all take for granted, the chaotic lifestyle of the homeless has a major impact on a personís ability, and body, to cope and street life can ravage people in a variety of ways.

The voluntary housing agency Focus claims that more over 6,000 people are homeless in Ireland, 3,000 in Dublin.

In Cork there is even evidence that low-paid workers are beginning to fall into the homeless trap because they are unable to afford accommodation or get public housing. In a rapidly-changing nation there is an urgent need to provide facilities where homeless people can take refuge and find comfort and to prevent further tragedies taking place.

Like it or not, the problems dealt with by the Simon community are a damning indictment of Irish society, where once-cherished qualities of sympathy and compassion are in danger of being supplanted by more mercenary considerations.

In a land motivated by the 'Celtic tiger' mentality the plight of the homeless is all too often swept aside.

On any night, the harrowing evidence is plain on the streets of Ireland's cities. Hidden in the shadows, only yards from the bright lights of economic success, hundreds of down-and-outs are to be found sleeping rough. Their plight is reflected in the growing fatality statistics, the nearest these 'forgotten' people ever get to an obituary.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2001-11-28 11:52:44.
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