What a week this has been in dear, dirty Dublin. There are quite a number of things that I’m hoping to write about this weekend, but I think I’ll need a large cup of coffee and the weekend papers before I can fully untangle my thoughts.
For now, I’d like to flag the report released last week by the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan. The report is called “Homeless Truths and deals with child homelessness in Ireland. The Ombudsman’s brief includes consultation with children and so this report describes the experience of child homelessness in the words of homeless children. It’s a striking, sensitive and insightful document, accessible and succint and certainly worth reading here.
Now I’m not going to tell you to take to the streets and fight for homeless children. There are a whole lot of political problems, and only so much any of us can do. But I do have a few observations about this report.
- It once again reminds us of the importance of a stronger presence for children’s rights. In light of the referendum on the issue which (hopefully) will take place in the next twelve months, it’s important to be informed about the situation of children in Ireland. Those who oppose the children’s rights referendum do so largely based on the rights of the family. The children speaking through this report are ones without the protection of the family unit and so it’s crucial they we invest them, and others like them with intrinsic rights.
- As the Ombudsman recognises, homelessness is far more than the lack of a roof over your head. “None of the children were focused on buildings or physical structures, rather what having a home represented – dignity, self-esteem, feeling safe and secure. This is what really mattered to them.”
- Accordingly, the provision of adequate supports, such as education, counselling, daytime activities and support in learning to live independently, are also vital considerations when we try to seriously address homelessness. Soup runs and shelters are obviously valuable services, but there’s also a bigger picture of which we all need to be aware.
- These children are amazing. This is my most important observation. They’re sensitive, articulate, grateful for the smallest kindnesses, deeply aware of the risks presented to other children in similar situations. Several are completely committed to their education, even in these unimaginably difficult circumstances. They’re not looking for the moon, but for something to do during the day, kindness and attention from social workers and the HSE, school uniforms and a place that allows them to feel like they have a home. We all have our prejudices towards the homeless, with some justification, but this kind of resilience, determination and maturity is exceptional and deserves our attention and respect.
You can also listen to spoken word extracts from the interviews on this page.