Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H is for Homeless

Many years ago I was taking some money from my account at an ATM close to where I work. When I completed my transaction and turned around, I was confronted by what looked like a homeless man asking for money. I gave him a few quid and went on my way to the shops. I returned an hour or so later and saw the same man, lying on the ground underneath the same ATM with a partially consumed bottle of whiskey in his hand. The incident had a profound effect on me. For a long time afterwards, I refused to give money to anyone begging in the street.

Fast forward some years and I find myself deeply involved in my local parish as part of a music group. Our local church, like many others, had become a magnet for homeless people. They would beg outside the masses and sleep at night under the overhang at the front door. I could tell you lots of stories but there was one character in particular whom I got to know reasonably well. His name was Stephen. He wasn’t that old but he’d had a hard life. Drugs and prison featured in his story. I haven’t seen Stephen for several years now and given the very obvious poor state of health he was in when I last saw him, I fear the worst may have transpired.

During all these years, and despite my one bad experience of giving money on the street, I came to have a great appreciation for the work of agencies helping homeless people. Operating at a national level, one such agency is Focus Ireland. You can find out more about them here. At a more local level, an initiative that began in my own parish is the Wicklow Homeless (WH) Five Loaves. They do fantastic work and I’ve been privileged through my involvement with music to have helped with some fundraising for them over the years.

Moving forward to the present day and we find ourselves in the aftermath of a severe economic collapse. All bar the richest households are feeling the effects of austerity as our government leaves no stone unturned to ensure that wealthy risk-takers are paid back in full for the unsecured money they invested in bank bonds. Agencies trying to help homeless people, like most charitable organisations, must surely be feeling the pinch too. At the very thinnest end of the wedge, those poor souls left on the streets must surely be finding their caps are much lighter these days as there are fewer spare euro to throw in them.

Where I live, I haven’t noticed any great increase in the homeless on the streets. However, I have become more aware of it when I walk the streets of Dublin, as I often do while pursuing my interest in street photography. I have never set out to photograph homeless people but while merely observing the streets in general I can tell you that I have seen some down and out people in situations that I just could not bring myself to photograph. But I do have two photographs I want to share relating to the topic of this post. The first one, at the top, was taken at the entrance to the Brown Thomas car park in Dublin (if you’re not from Ireland, think ‘Harrods’). I had given him a few bob and was about to walk away when I remembered I had my camera with me. I asked his permission for a photo and he kindly agreed. He then promptly ignored me (thankfully) as I sat on the pavement to get a low-angle shot. I was really taken with the dog in his arms.

The second photo, below, was taken on Dublin’s Henry Street on a cold and very wet Sunday afternoon in late November 2012. The guy sat like this for ages and I couldn’t decide if he was asleep or awake. So I just took the shot and left him undisturbed.

Homelessness. Poverty. Dublin in the 21st century.


  1. So sad that the real 'homeless' get such bad press because of some foreign nationals begging with drugged children. So many genuine homeless people in that situation through no fault of their own . Great post John and great picture.xx

  2. Is this bottom photograph one of yours? It's fantastic!!!

  3. So well written and what a brilliant photo! I'm enjoying your blog and am nominating you for a Liebster Award - all will be revealed on Saturday when L is for Liebster at sothisis40-really.blogspot.com

  4. Great post John.
    Focus Ireland do a great work alright.
    And your photos capture the sadness all to well ;)