Each day I take a couple of walks down by the river. In the small city park there, three people have moved in recently.
A guy, his girlfriend and an older bloke have carved out a cave from a patch of bamboos and covered the top with thick vegetation. There are fluffy winter sleeping bags visible at the back of this fashioned cave and the older guy has approached me several times while on my walk to enquire about the time.
One morning down there a hefty big girl approached me aggressively and demanded to know if I was ‘Martin.’ It turned out this girl was not only a social worker but the sister of the girl in the bamboo cave too. She understood that Martin was the name of the older man who lived there so I was quick to point out that I wasn’t, nor never had been, Martin, (I mean really hefty, with arms like Paul O’Connell!!). She then told me they were all drug addicts in the course of a short conversation with her and Martin was also a dealer.
They are also homeless of course. In this country, you cannot receive social welfare payments unless you have an address and Number One, Bamboo Villas, Cork Millennium Park, won’t wash. And it is not just the dole that is affected by this. Without a proper address you cannot get onto the social housing list either. The logic seems to be that you can’t get a roof over your head unless you have a roof over your head. Only a bureaucrat!
Last week at the Fine Gael conference reporter Christina Finn asked the Taoiseach about Ireland having one of the highest homelessness figures “to date”. Slippery snake that he is, Little Leo answered a different question, one he wasn’t asked. “I can certainly say that that statement is incorrect,” Varadkar responded. “Ireland has one of the lowest levels of homelessness. We’re actually a country by international standards compared with our peers that has a low level of homelessness.”
The woman was pointing to the record number of homeless inside our country compared to previous years but Little Leo muddied the water with comparative statistics between countries instead, using figures, (he claimed), from the OECD. But the Journal “Factfile” team checked the Taoiseach’s claims and found them ‘unproven.’ In layman’s terms then he was either lying through his teeth or talking through his hole. But neither behavior from a politician is new. The worrying factor was that Leo appeared to be totally in denial about our homeless problem. Indeed, Junior Minister at the Department of Housing, Damien English, also referenced the claim again in the Dáil last Tuesday, adding that media coverage of the homelessness crisis is “damaging to Ireland’s international reputation”. Good Lord, it’s all out fault that we lost the Rugby World Cup for telling the foreigners about our homeless people.
Of course, whenever a VIP is due to visit Kildare Street, the homeless are routinely rounded up for blocks around the place and shipped out for a few days. But it is two years next week to the night that a homeless guy died on the street across the road from the Dail. I bet Damien English considered that to have been the height of bad taste on the part of the tramp involved. Incidentally, he froze to death in his sleeping bag on the steps of a building while the lights and heating blazed all night in the Dail opposite him.
Varadkar was in Clongriffin in north Dublin this morning to unveil the foundation stone for 84 new social homes. After the ceremony/photo opportunity, the foundation stone fell and smashed. You would have to wonder if that is an omen of things to come for the 84 new social homes. But unperturbed by this ironic event, Little Leo came out fighting. “To some people, these new apartments, which are being built, don’t exist and don’t count, and they will never count or exist because they’re not a direct build by a local authority”, he said. “It’s being done by a different model which is a longterm lease involving an approved housing body in this case the Iveagh Trust. But they do exist, they will be completed around this time next year and will provide longterm secure housing for 85 individuals and their families.”
The thing is though, Leo can go home tonight to his plush secure home and sleep in a warm comfortable bed. The three suspects down by the river are still in the bamboo cave and will be during the harsh polar blast we are due later this week. Since 2011, Fine Gael in Government all but stopped building social housing of any kind so that by the time their buddies in the Banks began evicting people from their own homes, there was nowhere for them to go. So everything that the Government has now been embarrassed into doing, is all about the future. The 84 new social homes in Clongriffin won’t be available until NEXT year.
Leo also added that the Clongriffin Town Centre development would be part of a programme that will involve almost 7,000 public homes next year, about half directly built by local authorities and another half provided through other mechanisms “including long-term leases”. As is the way of these things, the announcement is for 7,000 houses starting next year but that could mean the completion date for the lot of them is in 2040. As little as 10 of the 7,000 may get built next year because that is the way politicians portray these things to us.
But again, he is saying the project won’t even begin until next year and so far then, that is only a plan. Meanwhile we have 194 people on the streets today and hundreds more in squalid hotel rooms all around the country. The stories from the Father McVerry Trust concerning the lives of these people are utterly appalling, even as Leo plays politics with it. Worse still, his efforts to deflect criticism for it is worrying because it suggests he either doesn’t know or understand the seriousness of the situation or he is in denial about our homeless problem.
At a time when the available figures point to this problem getting worse week by week, you get the sense that the homeless are a somewhat distasteful and unwanted distraction for Fine Gael. I don’t know why but I expected more from Doctor Varadkar with his “Caring profession.”