Thursday, November 30, 2017

Homelessness and HIV.

There is a homeless man who seems to be living on a bench on the canal near my home. I see him there most days, sitting by his folded up sleeping bag, or lying in it with his hood up, making the most of the relatively warmer and safer daylight by trying to sleep. Sometimes he is walking near by. He seems like he is concentrating on being in his own world, as if he’s in his bedroom or on the sofa, trying to maintain the illusion that this is normal, that living on a bench by a canal is a normal way to live. Maybe trying to prevent people from interacting with him, from challenging him perhaps, or hassling him, even helping him, from puncturing the invisible wall that allows him to maintain something resembling sanity and privacy in this insane, publicly intimate situation.

Or maybe he is not thinking anything like that. I don’t know what he is thinking. I can hardly imagine what it is like to be living on a bench in the open air in the middle of a city. I just passed his bench again about half an hour ago. The temperature right now tonight is 2C. It feels even colder. My lungs hurt breathing in the cold air. There was a blue tent set up by the bench. I assume he is now in the tent. A large umbrella and a small cloth were positioned on the bench.


Homelessness on the Grand Canal, Dublin.

I don’t have any idea what his life is like or what he is going through now, physically or psychologically. I only know that it is appalling that in this wealthy city in this wealthy country on this bountiful planet that this person and hundreds of others are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures the middle of winter, because they have no homes, because it isn’t safe for them to be in their homes, because sleeping on the streets of Dublin is the best or only option for them. That so many people would choose to, or feel that they have no choice but to, sleep rough. This, it seems simply, is wrong. People sleeping on the streets don’t generally want to be there. We as a society should be ensuring that everyone has a home, a roof over their heads, shelter from the cold, safety indoors. We shouldn’t need to state this. It is part of the social contract, the bedrock agreement of human society, basic humanity. It is a damning indictment of us as Irish society that we are failing to do this most basic thing, failing these members of our society, failing to provide decent shelter to everyone. In the last week in Dublin, two people died while sleeping rough in the city. One man died in Sandford Close in Ranelagh, “ritzy sixy”, an affluent suburb of Dublin 6. Another outside the Four Courts, the literal seat of justice in the country, in the heart of the city centre. Those two men who died were not alone, other homeless people have died, many, in recent months and years in Dublin and around the country. What are we doing? When are we going to stop this? When are we going to stop failing the members of our community who are most in need?

Tonight after passing the tent I did the only thing I could think of, I reported it to the Rough Sleeper Team of homelessness charity the Dublin Simon Community. They will send someone to check on them. I hope. Their phone number is (01) 872 0185. They picked up immediately when I phoned them at 11pm on a Thursday night. And Simon have generally seemed to me to do good work. Let’s hope they can help.

In addition I reported that I'd seen someone sleeping rough, to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive of Dublin City Council. They say they pass the information to the Housing First Service “who will attempt to make contact with the individual”. I’ve no idea how long that will take. The form allowed you to pinpoint the location precisely on a map, or with a street address, so they could locate the person sleeping rough. Completing the report required a confirmation from the email address you provide to them. So it’s a little obstructive. But maybe it will help too.

I’m not sure what else I can do. Or what we can do. But I know much more can and has to be done. People of Dublin, people of Ireland, take action before more of our people die.

- - - - -

Another thing on my mind. Once again it will be World AIDS Day tomorrow, 1st December. UNAIDS gives the figures. Those big figures are made up of millions of individuals, millions more figures. Each figure represents a person, a family, a community. A real person. In 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 36.7 million people living with HIV. Of them, 20.9 million people living with HIV were on anti-retroviral therapy in July 2017. We also know that there were 1.8 million people newly infected with HIV during 2016. UNAIDS prefaces these numbers by saying “tremendous progress” has been made against AIDS over the last 15 years. And that their goal is to end the epidemic by 2030. In many ways, a lot of progress has been made. But progress isn't enough. It should never have been this bad, and worse. We could be stopping it faster, saving more lives, improving more people's health. And I hope we can see the epidemic being over in 13 years’ time. But there are still millions of people getting HIV every year, millions living with it, millions who need treatment and aren’t getting it. And it’s not on UNAIDS top three headlines, but one million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016. I’ve talked about this before, in much greater depth, in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 - from Tanzania that time - and 2015. Not last year, with other things on my mind. I care very much about HIV and AIDS and I think I always will. I work on it professionally, I campaign and march about it, I research it, I try to do something about it. I don’t know what else to say right now. Let’s stop HIV for good.


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