A party town for some, but not the homeless

In a month in which we in Galway thrive on festivals, tourists, and summer sunshine, we realise just how blessed we are to live in one of Europe's most engaging cities. As the most influential arts festival winds down this weekend, and the iconic Galway Races begin, we can feel a little smug that we live in a such a special place. Every day, every month, every year it seems Galway just marches forward - more visitors, more recognition, and more festivals.

This year's Galway Races boasts £1.8 million in prize money, and the visitors it attracts, the high fashion, the tourist euros is staggering. It is party town through the wee hours, a time of economic vibrancy, of fun and frivrolity.

But as we wander or stumble out of pubs, nightclubs and restaurants, delighted with ourselves, and looking for a taxi home, we might just see some sights we don't want to see on our streets of Galway - increasing numbers of people taking shelter in shop doorways with neither the money for a taxi nor a bed in which to sleep.

We might try to ignore it, turn away and try to forget what we see, but the problem and the sadness of this worsening plight will not go away.

Only this week Ireland's Cope has made a submission to the Government in a bid to alleviate this worsening crisis of homelessness. It describes an "extraordinary deterioration" in Galway where there are some 50 homeless families, including up to 100 children, and 45 single person households in emergency accommodation in the city on any given night, and up to 50 people, men and women, sleeping rough.

This is the underbelly of our culturally vibrant Galway, the dark side of our city. There is little frivolity sleeping on the streets.

Galway and Ireland are no different from other countries suffering a similar crisis, and we don't have the answers. But recognising there is a problem and having the will to try to solve it is half the battle - and unfortunately - the more we see homeless people, sometimes the more blind to them we can become.

Cope has made its submission, but it also needs strong political will, a change in attitudes, and permanent rather than temporary solutions. Sometimes it is good to think outside the box, like Finland, the only EU state not suffering a housing crisis. It did so by eradicating temporary solutions for permanent housing. In line with its "Housing First model", people do not have to earn their right to housing by proving their capability to manage their lives, but are provided with a stable home and individually tailored support.

It may be easy to turn a blind eye to the homeless, but is it the right thing to do? Here in Galway we pride ourselves on our "cultural" indentity, but if culture determines what is acceptable, important, or right, then may be we should not feel so smug.


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