I cannot understand how people turn a blind eye to social injustice in Irish society, especially when it is blatantly obvious and happening practically every day of the week, every where in Ireland. Is that part of the problem I wonder? Perhaps, the more obvious or prevalent social injustice is in society the more desensitised it becomes to being acknowledged and responded to, but I refuse to become desensitised and unresponsive to what I believe is wrong in society.
Out of everyone, approximately 6 people, in the queue ahead of me for the ATM, failed to acknowledge or respond to the poor, middle-aged man sitting in the freezing cold with no coat or jacket on him as he sat on the cardboard-covered concrete slabs near the ATM begging. To me, the man didn’t look like what one would consider a stereotypical hobo. In fact, despite his unkempt appearance, he looked quite respectable. You could see that he lived a good life once, in the not too distant past. He didn’t have the weather (and physical) beaten appearance all too common among seasoned members of the homeless community who have served their time – spending years living rough on the streets – and earned their invisible badge of dishonour, which hangs around their necks weighting them down not only physically, but also sociologically in society.
It didn’t require one to expend a large amount of brainpower to realise the man I, and my fellow bystanders, stood in front of at the ATM was homeless, distressed and in need of help. If the man’s muffled, semi-embarrassed, but polite requests for “some spare change” were not enough of a clue to suggest that he needed help then the appearance of his hands spoke much louder than his words. The man’s hands were blue with the cold and he was fighting the urge to shiver, which are the symptoms of the onset of hypothermia. Even with a coat and a scarf on, I could still feel the cold, but he didn’t have these luxuries. Imagine the pain this man was experiencing? However, not only was he feeling the physical pain of the cold as it penetrated his poorly insulated body, but he was also feeling psychological pain—the unforgettable pain of the mistake, bad decision, poor choice or misfortunate incident that contributed to his social demise. Does the pain end there with his social death? No, it does not. That is only where the pain begins because every time he is ignored by every person that passes him by on the street every day for the rest of the time he has to fight for subsistence and existence on the streets, he is experiencing and re-experiencing, over and over again, the pain of rejection. Ironically, he is being rejected by a society he more than likely helped build, grow and expand when he was in his prime.
Why do we tolerate social injustice, I ask myself? We reject child abuse in society by criminalising it, but do we reject abused children? No! We reject disease by vaccinating and medicating against it, but do we reject victims of disease? No! Therefore, I ask, why are we rejecting the victims of social injustice? Why do we reject the victims of the disease of alcoholism and the disease of drug addiction, which are factors responsible for homelessness? Why is this unfortunate homeless man, like his homeless brethren, rejected by society? Out of approximately 30 people in eyeshot of the homeless man at the time, why was I the only person to stop and talk to him, to give him money and tell him to buy some food and a hot drink for himself? Did it take a big effort for me to do this? No! Did it take courage for me to do this? No! Besides the obvious excuse of the famous “bystander effect”—which I have read and witnessed a little too much of for one lifetime—then why did no body else react?
This man is a human being, a person, like the thousands of homeless people that share the same fate as him. Did nobody else see that? He is someone’s son. He could be someone’s father, uncle, brother, and friend. Would you ignore and reject your father, your uncle, your brother, your son, or your friend if they were in the same predicament as this man? No, I hope you wouldn’t. Homeless people do not have to be related to you to deserve respect. They too are people because we are all born equal, until society strips us of our innate right to equality. Homeless people are the same as you and I, but the only thing that separates them from us is the missing roof over their heads and the missing bed under their tattered and weary bodies as they lie, paradoxically, abandoned but simultaneously surrounded on the streets at night.
Please reject social injustice, instead of rejecting the homeless on our streets.