The amount of people dying from homelessness and the high visibility of the #MyNameIs campaign have the issue on everyone’s lips. For all the talk there is very little action, but a lot of argument about what homelessness actually is.
So far we have no deaths directly attributed to homelessness in Galway itself. Long may that continue to be so.
Apart from the usual suspects – the economy and social problems – where are the homeless coming from and why is homelessness such an issue now?
Travellers, Pedlars and Tramps
We always had, apart from the Travellers whose wagons were their homes, a rank of travelling tramps who had a circuit they traveled each year. They tended to be social drop-outs, some mentally ill, more just chose the lifestyle, and as they brought news of far away places, they had a place within the families and communities where they stayed.
In my native Longford, we had one who came to our farm annually up to the 1960’s called ‘The Badger’ Gill – given the nickname due to his appearance.
If we look through the census records, we can see people who were ‘pedlars’ and tramps – showing up in boarding houses across the country. They are very rare now but they do exist.
One young man from England sleeps in Eyre Square and the surrounding areas. I came across him as I was working one night and he told me he didn’t want housing unlike those who needed it. He did, however, need support services – which were denied to him as he didn’t want traditional housing. But it is not his sort that populate the shanty-style tent villages that dot the banks of Lough Atalia and the coast from Ballyloughane to Salthill.
Some of these people have social problems, from drink to drugs to mental illness and they cannot manage their affairs well enough to pay rent on a flat or look after themselves and pay bills. So they slip through the net and end up living rough.
As they try to turn their lives around, most do get support.
Good Friday Agreement
The most tragic case from this category was a young man I spoke to from the North who was told he was a foreigner and should ‘go home’ as there was no future for him in Galway. Under the Good Friday Agreement, everyone in the North of Ireland is Irish – if they want to be. Under our common travel area, Irish citizens get the same supports in the UK as UK citizens do, and the same should be true for UK citizens in the south. But it appears that this is not the case, at least not in this man’s case.
So, how is homelessness so visible in Galway now compared to the 1980’s? In the 80’s those who fell on hard times went to Dublin or England, many ending up on the streets there. But they don’t emigrate or migrate anymore so we see the true scale of the problem at its origins.
It is not just Brazil and South Africa that have shanty towns now. Galway has the tent villages behind the hostel that looks down on Lough Atalia, another on the banks facing Renmore, yet another on the Renmore bank facing the Raddisson SAS, a scattering along Ballyloughane and the ebbing and slowing numbers that populate the South Park – Salthill – Blackrock belt. These folk too are Irish, or if not, are EU citizens, or if not are humans like the rest of us. They should not be forgotten. Appropriate housing supports need to be created in the town, from wet hostels along with dry hostels, and so forth.
To help them is the right thing to do, unlike Eileen Gleeson of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, who said to help them is wrong. She said it’s their own bad behaviour that has them with the problems they have, an attitude last held by the worst British landlords of old.
If we dont help, it wont be long until we have dead of our own to mourn, on a shock basis first, then monthly, then a shrug of the shoulders – familiarity like we see in Dublin, where it now appears to happen on a weekly basis.
That’s no way to treat the homeless who call Galway their home.
Support The Galway Eye
Show your support for all our writers at https://www.patreon.com/galwayeye