The fastest growing economy in Europe. New jobs being created every week. Cranes once again stalking the Dublin skyline. Even Dun Laoghaire, poster town of the recession, has an air of recovery about it with new shops opening regularly. Although many of us will be playing catch up for decades to come, as we try to replace savings and pensions that were decimated in the crash, until recently, I was relieved that the worst seemed to be over.
Micheal Noonan said the emergency is over. I knew things weren’t perfect. I was aware of a homeless crisis but thought the government had it in hand with their plans for modular housing as an emergency solution. I thought we were doing alright, until I watched the recent RTE documentary “My Homeless Family”. Rarely has a programme made me so angry.
Using their own voices and most poignantly the voices and the tears of their children, these brave women (and it was mainly women) clearly illustrated just who have paid the price for our recovery. Living in self-described ‘posh prisons or cages’ the pressure being exerted on these families every day is incredible and the documentary made for surprisingly hard viewing. I wondered why and then I realised it was because we were watching ourselves. These families are every family; just like us they battled to keep their kids amused, they supervised homework and celebrated birthdays in their collapsed tiny worlds. It could so easily have been any of us.
Lone parent, Erica and her daughter Emily have a bond that is strong and familiar. I recognised it just I recognised Erica’s fear for the future as she tries her best to provide for her child. I was a lone parent for ten years and it was only a twist of fate that meant I had a supportive family with room for me and my daughter to live at home until I could afford to move out on my own. But I know Erica’s dreams. I dreamed them too. A house we could call our own; where she could have her own bedroom. Where she could have more space to play. Where she could invite her friends over after school. Erica’s pain although sharper was familiar. I was just lucky. But I could have easily been in her situation.
The women who generously let us view their lives in an intimate way, instinctively understand that a secure, safe, place to call home is essential to children’s development and to family life. A home is not just a roof over one’s head and a bed to sleep in, it’s much more. The writer and essayist, Samuel Johnson said “to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution”. How can these families achieve any of their ambitions living in such tiny spaces and with no security of tenure?
Over the coming fortnight we will all be bombarded with how brilliant the Government were in rescuing this country and dragging us back from the brink of disaster. Yes, they did take control of the finances and restore some order to them. But the recovery belongs to the people, all of us who suffered cuts to our incomes and increases in our taxes. Austerity has been very brutal and almost all of us have paid a heavy price.
But the highest price has been paid by those who are vulnerable; families on very low incomes or social welfare and lone parents. These people, families just like ours have been sacrificed in the name of this recovery. Families who now have nowhere to call home, through no fault of their own.
The blame for this does not merely lie with the current government. For decades’ successive governments abandoned the policy of building social houses. Somewhere along the way our Governments went from running a country to merely running an economy.
For many (not all) involved in politics it’s a game. It is a game created by men and still dominated by men, with a very male energy running through it and like any game it is all about winning. Keeping your seat at all costs.
But politics is not a game. It is the art of caring for the people of the country. The women on My Homeless Family knew that. Having been stripped of that most basic right in life – a place to call home from which to build proper lives for themselves and their children, they are now doubly disadvantaged. If this republic means anything, it falls to the rest of us, to be their voice at the election. Homelessness must be front and centre of the next programme for government. Otherwise we are all complicit in their misery.