Demons Of Compassion
The demons of compassion
We have invited Simon Coveney numerous times to come down to Pizza Sunday Club (during his time as Minister for Housing and Homelessness) and meet us and some people experiencing homelessness for a chat. Maybe he could listen to some of their problems and we could see how we could work with him on helping make lives easier for those on the streets. Unfortunately, of all the politicians we asked down and received feeble excuses from, he was the only one not to even have the decency to respond (or even have his assistant do so on his behalf). So seeing as Mr Coveney never had the chance to come down on a Sunday I thought I would give him a taste of what it can be like.
I remember a man who came up to our table at PSC a few months back with burnt hands and feet. He approached me shaking, with his hands outstretched, clear burn marks on the tips of his fingers. He began telling me that someone had set fire to his cardboard box last night while he was asleep. He awoke to the blaze and got out in time to avoid serious injury but his hands, feet and stomach were badly burnt and most of his belongings were destroyed. He asked me for some socks and jocks and then he began to weep uncontrollably. “It hurts” he said. “They wouldn’t let me stay in the hospital and I don’t want to sleep on the streets again tonight”. “My stomach is too sore too sleep on the streets tonight”. “I need to try find a hostel, I’m too afraid to sleep out there again, I just can’t do it tonight”.
I will never forget the image of this man’s hands. I shake a lot of hands at Pizza Sunday Club and I can depict a lot about a person from this simplest of gestures. You can often tell those who have had it rough on the streets by their handshake. Their hands are coarse and rugged, their nails unclean and uncut, and they often have cuts and patches of blood on their fingers. But despite the physical appearance of their hands, I can often tell how hopeless a person is by the sense of emptiness I can feel in their grasp. Often I am greeted by weak, lifeless handshakes and I can feel their loss of belief in themselves and their future.
This man’s hands however portrayed something much darker and more sinister than usual. Fingertips black and red from burns were something I had not witnessed before. His surrendering palms faced me, crying out to be released from their pain. Pain caused by a man-made fire. I was at a loss as to what type of man could do something like this to another. I looked again at his two defeated hands. Mine were smooth and clean, full of life and energy, untarnished by the fortunes of circumstance, yet mine were helpless. I could see the pain in his eyes and they were looking through mine screaming for help. All I did was hand him a couple of socks and jocks and move him to the side telling another guy to make sure he was ok. I didn’t even take the time to sympathise with him properly as there was a queue of people behind him looking for socks and jocks too.
Yes I listened to his story yet I still felt I was being cold towards him, like I should’ve empathised more with him, put myself in his shoes or what tatters were left of them. But I didn’t. I continued on like normal, handing out more socks and jocks to others and greeting the ones I knew with friendly hellos. This moment was a harsh realisation for me as I discovered that I had begun to shut my emotions off when I came to Pizza Sunday. I had a job to do to help cheer up people and as much as I listen and try my best to empathise, I had stopped allowing myself to get too attached to the stories. I had stopped truly empathising. Why? I like to think it is not because I am becoming cold or selfish but rather because the stories were becoming too hopeless and too frequent that I could no longer register them without boiling up with rage. This rage would lead to a spur to action but what immediate action could I take? How could I find the faceless culprits of these crimes against humanity? And even if I did find the culprits what would I do? Bring them to justice? There is no justice when it comes to homelessness.
Simon Coveney promised families would no longer be in hotels by July but he weasled his way out of his ministerial role just before the deadline he had set. He had the chance to change things but he didn’t. Instead he jumped ship at the last minute like a coward, leaving the situation even worse than it was when he came into office.
Now I ask Eoghan Murphy. What hope can we give these people we see every Sunday? How many more people will begin to line the streets in the coming months looking for socks, jocks, some pizza and someone to listen to them? Why don’t you come down to Pizza Sunday Club and talk to some of these people you are supposed to be trying to help? Why don’t you tell the man who was burned from his cardboard box home that everything is going to be ok when you know it’s not? Will you have the balls to actually change things or are you going to make more false promises like the coward before you?
For anyone out there who actually wants to change things, we’ll be in Chaplins from 7pm.
Written by Cormac Noonan