Under the tinkling Christmas lights, shoppers in their hundreds flock the streets of Dublin City. They scramble through the chaos, hum Christmas songs and swing their shopping bags. But Christmas isn’t like that for everyone.
For Emma, and for many other homeless people, Christmas means sitting on the cold, damp pavement observing this festive frenzy but being unable to participate.
“Christmas is like any other day for the homeless. We had to be out of the shelters at 8am and we wouldn’t be allowed back in until 11pm at night.”
Emma describes Christmas time as being “heart-breaking” for the homeless as they are often forgotten about amidst the chaos.
Emma never felt angry when she watched people spend small fortunes in shops at Christmas, while she was suffering in the cold. But she admits to feeling envious. “I used to watch girls walking down the streets, with their shopping bags. I’d be jealous when I saw that they had nice clothes or simple things like having their nails painted. I wanted those things too.”
Emma met her partner, Tony, while homeless and they have been together for nine years. They would spend the bitterly cold nights together, often looking out for fellow friends on the streets. “We would all stick together.”
Tony described how they were often looked at as “bags of rubbish, rather than people”. He said: “People have an attitude towards the homeless that it’s their own fault and that they should be left there.”
At Christmas time, however, people are more generous, according to Tony. “Some days you might make €200.”
On Christmas Day, the RDS organise a day for the homeless where they can get food and drink from 2-6pm. Tony and Emma also praised the work of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) and the Simon Community for their work with the homeless at Christmas time. One Christmas, Tony and Emma received a €150 voucher from Dunnes Stores from SVP. “The charities are doing great work for the homeless and they are worth supporting at Christmas.”
But what can students do for the homeless this Christmas? Emma and Tony recommended giving food and money. “While the homeless may want money, they need food,” Tony said. However, many homeless people are on drugs or alcohol so it’s hard for them to eat or drink as it makes them sick.
During the Christmas period, the homeless receive no presents or gifts. “I think it would be a lovely idea if students wrapped up small gifts like gloves or hats and gave them to the homeless this Christmas,” Emma said. “It would make them feel as though somebody cares and that they are worth something in this life.”
Tony used to hate when people talked to him on the streets as “they make you feel so small”. Eye contact made him embarrassed and when people stopped to talk to him, reality would hit that he was homeless: “I would be mortified.” However Tony said that it could sometimes be the only communication he had all day.
Tony and Emma just wanted to be treated like people when on the street. They are real people too. “Emma got excited when Boyzone were coming to Dublin,” Tony remembers.
Drugs are heavily featured among the homeless in Dublin. Tony describes many homeless as “living under the stars”. Especially at Christmas, homeless people turn to drugs to get through the tough day. According to Tony: “drugs brought you out of the reality of being alone on Christmas.”
Tony and Emma don’t think that the government is doing enough to help the homeless. “There are hundreds of empty flats and houses being knocked down, instead of giving them to the homeless. It’s a disgrace,” Tony said. “It’s the Church and volunteers who support the homeless. Without them, I don’t know where we’d be.”
Image credit: flickr via crerative commons