The Galway into which Galway Simon was born four decades ago was much different from the one of today. Back then, the city was just throwing off the shackles of a market town; its foray into the process of becoming a centre of art and culture still in its diapers. At the time, Galway was still a magnet for those drawn west by the setting sun and hopes of a different life.
It was a town in which the concept of homelessness was a million miles from what it is now. Back then, terms such as down and outs, vagabonds, street alcoholics abounded; the concept of skid row was often a badge, especially in a town like Galway. New historical research being undertakn by Tom Kenny on behalf of Galway Simon for a forthcoming publication highlighted this perception that existed.
This week Galway Simon gathered for its fortieth birthyday — it should have been a day to look back solely on past achievements, to honour those who had given so much to the organisation. A day when the lessons of the past would be used to move confidently into the future, knowing a battle was being won; knowing that the vast difference that it was making to the city had brought it to the brow of the hill, and now as it started the decade to its half century, it could assume that it would control the demand for its services.
Alas, Galway Simon has never been busier and there is no indication that this will get any better. Yes, there are initiatives to tackle homelessness, but they are slowpaced and are not meeting the growing demand.
A few weeks ago, I published an article by a woman who had found herself and her young children on the verge of homelessness. She spoke of the fear, the terror, the lack of confidence; the sense of failure; and how when she secured a home for herself and her children, all of this changed. This week, she got in touch to say that the security of a home had changed everything for her and her outlook was so much more positive as a result.
But for every woman like this, there are thousands more who are not as fortunate, and who are yet to discover the feeling of getting a new home.
We cannot overestimate what having your own home does for a person; that sense of security, of permanence. We cannot overestimate the damage being done to young children who do not know this.
A year-long study into the effects of homelessness and life in emergency accommodation on families has warned of a “seismic impact” on people who are left unable to cook, do their laundry, or take their children to school without expensive, time-consuming journeys across the city.
The research, which was conducted through interviews with 16 formerly homeless families who had spent time living in hotels while awaiting permanent accommodation, found that not being able to cook led to higher expenditures, health implications due to lack of nutrition and reduced family social time.
I feel immensely sad for those chidlren for whom home is the likes of Room 534 — with an empty misplaced minibar, no kitchen, no privacy, no dignity, no way to grow up.
The study showed the medical impact of living in emergency accommodation — the lack of space to crawl around, to develop like we all should, with a decent bit of space.
Homelessness and the fear of it is terrifying. For those who are in it, and those who have left, the status leaves scars.
To Galway Simon, a birthday wish and a thank you from all the people of Galway for what you have done. Your work will continue long into the future, and those who can help, will help. Those who can fundraise and donate, will continue to do so. Those of us who can highlight your work and appeal for help for you, will continue to do so. Let the difficulty of the situation not deter you from your task. Well done to you all, well done.