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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 7 April, 2020
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Opinion: Absolute strangers have reached out to help us – I feel better about what tomorrow brings

Last week I wrote about how my wife and I had fallen on hard times and were now sleeping in our car. The response we have received has restored our faith in human kindness.

Catherine W

IRELAND IS A nation of begrudgers. The Celtic Tiger made us all greedy, all selfish. Each person for their own. The Tiger’s death didn’t reverse that. Now there was less money to spend and we were damn well keeping what we had. The greed, the meanness of spirit had become ingrained. This is what Ireland had become. Hadn’t it?

No. It hadn’t. Last week I had an article published here about how my wife and I had fallen on hard times, how we are sleeping in our car. How things like proper cooked dinners, regular showers, a proper bed had become distant memories. How friends and family became vultures over our belongings, belongings which took twenty-odd years of hard work to accrue.

I wrote the article because I wanted to start a debate on the issue of mental health and homelessness. I wanted to raise awareness, and in that I succeeded. As somebody who regurlarly walked by the homeless and didn’t give a damn, why should I expect others to? Why should I expect anyone to care about my story, or the story of every other homeless person in this country?

I hoped to start a conversation about homelessness

When the article was published there were a few who thought it didn’t ring true, and thought there was another side to things with my wife’s family. Obviously there is, but as I don’t know what I or we have done that they find so reprehensible I cannot put forward their point of view. I could only put forward my view, my side.

I expected the negative as well as positive. I expected a bit of a debate something to bring to the forefront of people’s minds the homeless issue.

What I didn’t expect was to spend two days answering emails from people who were willing to offer, rooms, beds, meals , showers, hotel rooms, or jobs as well as money. At one time I felt sorry for the editor, who must have been overwhelmed with the flood of mail on top of her usual duties.

What I got is the Ireland we sell to tourists but we never actually see, or maybe we choose not to. Maybe it’s there in front of us and we have become blinkered to it, too used to believing that we have become hardened, that there is very little good out there.

Shocked by the level of kindness

I must say that every offer we received we declined, mainly because the article wasn’t written to be a personal fundraiser, but also because, my God, if we accepted them all we would probably be on the pigs back for years. From a woman who offered us a room in her house for as long as we need it – who, when I declined, offered to give us a night in a hotel – to the couple who had gone through similar circumstances and offered us a meal, a shower, a chance to wash our clothes, and if we couldn’t afford to get to them they would collect us. Other people have offered hotel nights, one man has kindly offered to see whether he could find a job for either us within his company (that, I have to say, is something we are talking about with him). People have offered donations. How can you not be bowled over by such outpourings of kindness from strangers?

I am pleasantly shocked and surprised by this kindness, but should I be? This is, after all, the country that 29 years ago gave the most per capita to Live Aid. We have changed a lot since then, we became wealthier as a nation than that July day in 1985, and then in 2008 – seemingly overnight – we lost that wealth. Even post-2008 while working I would hear people moan about those who were jobless, how they didn’t want to work and how their allowances should be cut. Inevitably, these comments came from people driving new cars or jeeps, those somehow unaffected by the recession, or at least less affected than most. I started to believe this was the view of the majority of the country. It was every person for themselves – I got my seat on the lifeboat, if you missed out you deserve to drown.

It has restored my faith in humankind

Amazingly, beautifully, wonderfully it’s not the case. We may not be the same giving nation we were in 1985, but we are nowhere near as selfish and self-centred as I had come to believe. My article raised more positive than negative comments, and the emails I received restore my faith and belief in humankind. It’s more than that though, things are far from perfect, our situation hasn’t changed – but the fact that people, total absolute strangers, care so much means tomorrow isn’t to be feared quite so much.

I wrote the piece anonymously and would like to thank everyone who commented positively, and everyone who emailed. It’s probably not a traditional way to finish an article but I would particularly like to thank SW who mailed us and K&M, not because they offered any more than others but because they were so persitant, insistent that even if we didn’t take one thing we take another. I would also like to put in a plug for the Simon Community, and for anyone who thinks they are heading for a situation similar to us; don’t leave it four months as we did, get in touch straight away. They can’t house you, but their advice is worth listening to, and they will listen with sympathy.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous. 

Opinion: We were a normal married couple who fell on hard times. Now, we sleep in our car.

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Catherine W

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