Let's set the scene: A homeless man is sitting by the side of a busy street. Crowds of people constantly pass him by. A small amount of people - few and far between - may throw a few spare pennies or cents his way, but the vast majority of people will pass him by. They'll keep their heads held high, look in the opposite direction or look at their phones. They'll ignore him, silently considering him with either pity for his situation, or with some form of contempt. Is he just a poor, innocent guy who's down on his luck, some people may wonder. No, it's more likely he got too heavily involved with drink/drugs/gambling, and therefore he only has himself to blame.
Many, though, won't think of him for any longer than the second it takes to pass him by.
If that (possibly dramatic) generalization is how we regard the homeless on our cities' streets, then it follows logic that many would never know how many people are sleeping rough, or even worse, how many die on the streets each year. It's for that reason, though, that Jonathan Corrie's death is an unusual one. While it was of no benefit to him in life, the place where he died - on a street no more than fifty feet away from the Irish parliament - made him into a national symbol once his body was found. Here was a man, as the media would learn, who had been living on the streets of Dublin for around five years, who died so close to the heart of Ireland's political system. Jonathan Currie, a man so often ignored by the public and their politicians during his life, is now a posthumous political martyr.
For the cynical journalist or news editor, it's the perfect news story. As Winter settles across the Irish capital, a man, who had been let down by the government, lay down across the street from a well-known hotel that legislators, civil servants and other influential figures visit for lunch. He lay down on a chilly winter's night, only to be found cold and lifeless by police the following morning. It has emotion. It breeds contempt against the political class. It revives an age-old debate on homelessness and poverty in the country over the holiday season. It gets the readers' attention.
All the hysteria made about Currie's death runs the risk of people forgetting that someone's son, friend, and father died in a heartbreaking and undignified way, especially when those who could do something to prevent such issues happening again use the news to score points against political rivals instead. While the politicians of Leinster House look down at their feet in an awkward guilt, the regular citizens of the capital city manage to honor the deceased with a moving candlelit vigil at the spot where he was found on Molesworth Street, with many of Dublin's homeless in attendance, some who knew Currie personally.
My Currie's death has now been noticed by the government, by media and by the people, but what now? Official figures state that over 160 people are living on the streets of Dublin, an increase of 180% since November 2009. Sam McGuinness of the Dublin Simon Community explained to the Irish Times that with the onset of the winter, "we are going to have more deaths".
On that note, though, a chilling point must be raised for those angry with the government for a death on their doorstep. Is there really anything that the current Irish government can do to achieve their own, pre-Currie intentions of eradicating homelessness in Ireland by 2016? If lawmaking in Ireland is as slow as many living there have grown accustomed to, is there enough time to act, before the issue becomes a mere baton in a political relay race? It's both idealistic and impractical to think that changes could take place this side of Christmas, but even if extra funds were released to the various homeless charities, would they have the other resources required to tackle the grave social problem?
Jonathan Currie died on the streets, less than fifty feet away from Leinster House, the seat of Irish government. Whether or not he has become the catalyst so desperately needed in Ireland to tackle the taboo-like topic of homelessness in Ireland remains to be seen.