by Dave O’Hara
Recently, I went for a meal with a good friend of mine in Dublin city. I hadn’t been to this restaurant before and from the outside it didn’t look amazing. It was on the first floor of a building with a low ceiling in what looked to be a few rooms which had been knocked together. However, it is often in these less than typical settings that the best atmosphere can be found and along with that the best food. As it turned out we had a great evening, a good catch up accompanied by good food and friendly service.
It was only at the end of the evening, when I was waiting for a coffee that I had an experience that nearly knocked me over. While waiting for coffee, I went to the restroom. It was precariously located, up a stairs at the end of a corridor in what seemed to be a residential part of the building. Entering the restroom, I glanced over a sign saying ‘for restaurant customers only’, but didn’t think much of it. Upon leaving the restroom and going down the stairs, I met a young enough woman with a buggy. I proceeded to help her, despite her initial protests. She asked me if I was in for a meal and asked me how it was. At this stage, her partner started climbing the stairs carrying shopping bags. She then mentioned how they had only just moved into the building, that they had previously been homeless. I was suitably shocked. All I could do was wish them the best of luck with their new place and they wished me a good evening.
Over my coffee, I tried to process what I had just experienced. My friend of course was a little confused but I mentioned it to him after we had left the restaurant. It was the moment the homelessness crisis really hit home for me. It has been all over the media recently, we are inundated with stats and stories and it is a matter of great concern. Until my experience, the stats were just numbers and there wasn’t a tangible face behind the stories. I was embarrassed going back into the restaurant after meeting that young family. I am grateful though that it has changed my outlook. This crisis has hit more people than we can imagine, there are many people struggling to find somewhere to stay.
We must unite with the people who are out there helping people in the midst of this crisis. There are so many volunteers who on a daily basis give out food and help people find places to stay. There are sleep outs regularly and many people attend these. There is a lot of good being done and it seems finally that the government is moving to address the crisis. We need to pray for those who are victim to this crisis and those who are giving freely of their time to combat it. It is estimated that 1400 young people are homeless, 1 is too many. While it may seem to be a crisis not in our individual immediacy, it is on our doorstep and no one in this country should ever grow up with the experience of being homeless,even just for a night.
The homelessness crisis is a deeply complex issue, deeply rooted in Ireland at this stage, but the movement against it at this stage seems large enough to really take it on. With Christmas in sight, such a time of generosity, love and renewal, we need to look at those whose Christmas is very different from what it should be. It all starts with a simple prayer and through the grace of God we can change the lives of people around us who are less fortunate.