Fintan O’Toole: One homeless child is a tragedy. Four thousand homeless children is a policy

While we worship an image of a homeless child, thousands of children in Ireland will wake up at Christmas in places that are not homes

Over the course of one day The Irish Times visited services providing free or low-cost food to the poorest, the homeless and the most vulnerable residents of the capital. Video: Kathleen Harris

One homeless child is a tragedy. One thousand homeless children is an emergency. Four thousand homeless children is a policy. Before we succumb, as we should, to the sentimental side of Christmas, let us acknowledge the bitter irony at its heart: the image of a homeless child. We will be seeing it over the next few weeks in churches, cribs, school nativity plays and Christmas cards. It will inspire feelings of awe and devotion and warmth. But it should redden our cheeks with shame. While we are worshipping an image of a homeless child, almost 4,000 children in Ireland will wake up on Christmas morning in places that are not homes.  

 We have inured ourselves to a form of child abuse. In July 2014, 749 children were officially categorised as homeless. In March 2015, the figure passed the thousand mark. I remember the shock of it, the scandal of a rich society with 1,000 homeless kids, the way this seemed like a point beyond which no civilised society could go.

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