let me start out by saying that this post is rather bleak. if you’re having a cruddy day, maybe wait until tomorrow of the day after to read this.
throughout much of Ireland, there’s little evidence of homelessness, or people sleeping rough out of necessity, as I’ve seen on State Street or virtually anywhere in San Diego. there’s no part of me that believes that this results from the fact that homelessness is not a problem in Ireland. my few hours in Dublin alone disillusioned me of any notion on that score (though I hadn’t much believed it up to that point, either). in most of the places I visited I saw people who clearly occupied the margins of society. not a lot of panhandling, but certainly some worse for the wear, depending on the time of day. one Irish person I spoke with said the lack of panhandling, sleeping on benches and other activities that one might associate with homelessness in the States (and in San Diego, certainly) results from a stronger tradition of offering services and support to homeless people. maybe it’s a Catholic thing, maybe it’s a cultural difference in attitude towards homeless people. maybe the quality of social services available helps people find food and housing on a more consistent or reliable basis, but in Dublin at least, the system is inadequate. understandably, with the explosion of the Irish economy in the last decade, Dublin became an increasingly attractive destination for those unable to find suitable work or opportunities elsewhere in the country. an immigration policy, implemented in the late ’90s and early ’00s, that made it relatively easy for residents of new EU countries (many from Eastern Europe, and Poland on an extraordinary scale) compounded the difficulty of finding suitable work.
after spending nearly two weeks in small cities and towns throughout west and north, it was something of a shock to finally spend time in Dublin. there are benches along both banks of the River Liffey, and it makes for a rather picturesque walk. unlike along the River Corrib, the River Lee, or the River Foyle, however, the benches along the Liffey, on Bachelor’s Walk and Swifts Row, were filled with men and women killing time, who seemed to have no particular place to go. while waiting for the bus back to Drogheda, one guy, sporting clothes that looked insufficient to ward off the chill brought in by the wind, asked every single person waiting for the bus (as well as every person who walked past the stop) for a cigarette. after finishing lunch in a cafe in Aston Quay, I waited in the road for one of the buses to take me on to Kilmainham Gaol and witnessed a guy (at about one o’clock in the afternoon) projectile the liquid contents of his stomach onto the pavement. whether he was homeless or not, I did not see anything like that while in any other city of any size (and am certainly glad for it).
the worst thing I saw in Dublin — in all of Ireland, really — was on my walk from O’Connell Street back to Busaras to catch the bus back to Drogheda. sitting on a corner were three people, a woman and a man in their thirties, and a boy of about ten. they weren’t up against the side of the building, or on a stoop, or making any effort to get out of the way of foot traffic, but were perched smack in the middle of the pavement. the man wasn’t (or couldn’t) say anything, but the woman was cooing affectionately, as a mother would over her child. both adults were petting the boy affectionately; it seemed they must have been his parents. the kid didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the situation. the woman’s speech was slurred and just this side of incoherent as she told the boy she loved him and that he was such a fine, good boy. he tried pulling away from her careeses, but against the two of them he didn’t have much luck. no one in Talbot Street seemed phased by their presence, and we all kept walking.