Is a school sleepout best way to raise awareness of homelessness?

‘These students give up their time to support a cause they believe in, which is admirable’

‘Nobody could disagree with the fact that the three charities the Belvedere Sleepout support are worthy recipients. But what was appropriate 31 years ago as a charity endeavour is surely now outdated.’ Above, a man lights a candle outside at the doorway in Molesworth Street where Jonathan  Corrie  was found dead. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

‘Nobody could disagree with the fact that the three charities the Belvedere Sleepout support are worthy recipients. But what was appropriate 31 years ago as a charity endeavour is surely now outdated.’ Above, a man lights a candle outside at the doorway in Molesworth Street where Jonathan Corrie was found dead. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Dublin is a city where homelessness has become ever more visible this year. There are so many arches, shop alcoves and covered laneways that have their own transient, shifting population. It’s a population that remained almost entirely nameless to the general public until the death of Jonathan Corrie in a doorway on Molesworth Street at the beginning of December. He died of hypothermia within sight of the Dáil, with photographs of his children on his person. People were angry, as they had a right to be.

It was reported today that the Peter McVerry Trust will provide 50 extra beds for homeless people in Dublin and Kildare. There are now 76 new beds that the trust, in association with Focus Ireland, has provided in Dublin over the past fortnight. Anybody who walks round Dublin city centre will know these are beds that are badly needed for one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society.

The Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland and Home Again are the three charities that will benefit from the 31st annual Sleep Out by students from Belvedere College. They have raised in the region of one million euro since they first started their Christmas initiative. Until Christmas Eve, they’ll be under the colonnades at the Bank of Ireland on College Green, and at the GPO on O’Connell Street.

They have a social media hashtag, #sleepout14 and are encouraging donations from the public at sleepoutdublin.ie; donations which will be very gratefully received by the three charities they support. These students give up their time each year to support a cause they obviously believe in, which is admirable. Peter McVerry himself said this week, “Sleeping out for 48 hours and experiencing in a small way what it is like to be on the streets, in order to raise much needed funds for homeless services is a valued sign of solidarity and concern by the students, past and present, and will make a significant and welcome contribution.”

And yet, for me, passing those students at the Bank of Ireland this morning, something about the scenario made me uncomfortable. In a city where homelessness has become a crisis, is it really appropriate for students at a fee-paying school to express their solidarity by sleeping out on thick rubber mattresses, with plenty of warm sleeping bags and clothing? The students texting away on their phones, surrounded by plastic boxes of Roses and Celebrations, looked more like they were between gigs at Electric Picnic. In fact, Kodaline appeared yesterday at the GPO to perform for them.

This is not what actual homeless people look like, nor how homeless people live. Also, I’ve seen real homeless people sleeping both outside the Bank of Ireland and outside the GPO; people now ironically displaced by those raising money for them.

Nobody could disagree with the fact that the three charities the Belvedere Sleepout support are worthy recipients. But what was appropriate 31 years ago as a charity endeavour is surely now outdated. It has become distasteful. In a city where so many are homeless, it looks plain wrong to see what amounts to people simulating being homeless on our capital’s main streets. Perhaps 2015 is the year Belvedere College needs to rethink how it does its annual fund-raiser for the homeless.

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