Last week I had the opportunity to meet some people who avail of homeless services provided by Cork Simon. People you might see begging on the street, whose gaze you avoid and whose cup you might have thrown a few cent into once or twice.
During an hour long discussion between those people - men, women, young and old, Irish and non-Irish – and two Cork TDs, all the misery and misfortune life can bring was on display.
Family breakdown, addiction, mental and physical illness, disabilites… all leading to homelessness for the people I met on Thursday.
I left City Hall thankful for the good start in life I got, the solid education I have and the luck I’ve had.
The next day news broke that two people were dead after taking extra strength heroin in Cork city, and over the weekend a further seven were hospitalised for the same thing. Thankfully the remaining seven survived.
Each one of those nine people addicted to heroin is somebody’s child. Like John Joseph, one of the Simon clients I met on Thursday, a self-described “chronic alcoholic” whose eloquent and highly emotional speech stunned the room into silence, they all had a family, once.
The two men that died, 30 year old Gary O’Sullivan and 26 year old Gavin Thompson, were somebody’s sons. I don’t know their circumstances but the manner of their dying suggests that they were living difficult lives.
Most people with addictions do live difficult lives, particularly when that awful combination of fragile social structures, addiction and personal vulnerability collides.
And that can apply to a middle class person who starts off liking a drink, a Traveller woman who is a victim of domestic violence, and everybody in between.
It’s difficult to have perspective on someone else’s hardship when you are dealing with your own – as most people are - but some of the comments posted on our Facebook page about the deaths were not only callous, but frightening.
Reducing other human beings to the label “junkies”, and suggesting they are a “waste of space” shows a striking lack of understanding about the nature of addiction.
As one person responded on the page, “I hope addiction never touches you or your family”.
Heroin is not exactly a gateway drug, and your life would have to be incredibly bleak to take that step in the first place. It’s not the kind of drug you try for the laugh in college. People who see homelessness or addiction as something that happens to “fools” or “wasters” must live very privileged existences.
The old idiom that “there, but for the grace of God, go I”, is always applicable, whether you ascribe your good fortune to God, your parents, your education or your star sign. We all have the capacity to fall, and it’s the lucky ones who don’t.