Last night friends and supporters of John Corrie, the homeless man who died nearly fifty meters from the Dáil earlier this week, held a vigil to highlight the housing crisis in Dublin. The mood was somber and the air was cold outside Leinster house, while inside, the government held an emergency debate on the problem of homelessness in Ireland. A large speaker was placed outside, allowing the vigil’s attendants to hear the debate. People lit candles and placed them at the steps where John Corrie passed away, “We look after out own on the streets”, one man said, as I stood to take a photo of the candles, “those inside just couldn’t give a fuck”.
John Corrie’s death, as pointed out by many in the media today, is not the first in Dublin’s history, and without proper and immediate action, won’t be the last. John Corrie’s death has lit a fire under the government; the image of a man cold and alone passing away in the night, paints a poetic and tragic picture, as if he had crawled his way to the grandiose gates of Leinster house and refused admission because of who he is; a former addict and a homeless man. While of course not the literal truth, John’s death has touched a nerve with most people.
The glaring hypocrisy inherent in Dublin’s housing crisis was put to the Dáil; Vacant NAMA-owned buildings are dotted all over the city, while nearly 160 people sleep in doorways every night; so why can’t we move them in? Of course there are logistical problems involved in making areas habitable, and who would foot the heating bill? But these are questions for the government to answer, not for those clinging to life in doorways.
As the vigil continued, the freezing night air had hands clasping together in an attempt to squeeze out some warmth, and people’s minds were inevitably thrown back to John in the doorway nearby, who tragically failed to garner enough warmth to keep him alive. The Simon community was out with soup and sandwiches, among the candles and prayers, readying themselves for another night, doing the very real job of keeping people alive. There were no chants, no grand gestures of discontent; only a few small candles, keep alit by coffee cups quietly placed on the doorway where John died.
People were not incensed or outraged, but disappointed. Many know that John’s death will not bring immediate change in rent allowances or emergency accommodation, but they do hope it will bring a wave of public disgust, a national shame. We can only hope that another man or woman won’t have to suffer the same fate; we can only hope that John died close enough to the policy makers, so they have no other view from their windows but him.