WHY? - Working Document


HERE & NOW is not intended as a treatise on homelessness.  Instead, I hope to explore artistically, this pertinent issue, there are people living in Ireland without a home, at a fundamental level, we're failing.

Occupying Space.  Whose space is this?  Is it okay to be here? Because I'm from Dublin? Is it really my city? Is it okay to occupy a part of it?  This is a performance, is that okay?  What am I saying about homelessness by doing this?  How does this impact on the people who are actually sleeping out all the time?  The role of the artist to place yourself in situations beyond your experience, to view the world from another perspective.

(All of these overlap)

Focus Ireland estimates that at any one time there are aprox. 5,000 people homeless in Ireland.  It’s difficult to make an accurate count for various reasons to do partly with the definition of homelessness (people sleeping on friends/family sofas, people in hospital with no where to go on discharge) but also because:

“A further factor contributing to the difficulty of providing reliable estimates of homelessness that the State has never made this a high priority. The most reliable figures, from „Counted in are only collected every three years and until recently only in Dublin.”

In 2008 ‘Counted In’ recorded 576 homeless children in Dublin, 592 in Ireland, and that’s a conservative figure, these are children counted as part of a homeless household.  There are children who are homeless and ‘unattached’ which means that they are no longer with their families and are therefore homeless as individuals.  There is currently no data available on the number of children living alone and homeless.

Article 42.5 of The Constitution of Ireland:
“In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.”

When I went to visit the Extended Day Service off Thomas Street, the key worker who I was meeting with explained to me that there are a significant number of people who are homeless accessing the service who are not from Ireland.  These people have to contend with a number of extra issues in terms of surviving, language barrier, cultural differences, racism on the streets, the inability to get home or the knowledge that this is their home now, although they are homeless.

“Along with those who were vulnerable even in the good times, there are now many more families and single people who find themselves deep in debt and at risk of losing their home and possibly becoming homeless for the first time.”
– Joyce Loughnan, Chief Executive, Focus Ireland

I work on the basis that the personal is the political, the private is the public. 
In 2000 I bought my home through the shared ownership scheme with Dublin City Council.  At that time I had a permanent pensionable job and was just about to get promoted with an increase in salary, on an incremental scale.  I was working as an administrator in a large hospital* and I was good at my job.  I worked there in different roles for almost ten years.  I wasn’t entirely living my life in that time though, it wasn’t really what I wanted to do.  I used to save up my annual leave to go and do shows, first as a stage manager then staging my own work.  The women I worked with encouraged me to go to college and I returned to education as a mature student in 2003, to study Drama & Theatre Studies with Sociology at The Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College.  When this four year degree course was over I was accepted on an M.A. course at RADA & King’s College London in 2007.  I transferred my mortgage from Dublin City Council to a full bank mortgage and rented out my home for a year to go to London.  By the time I completed five years of study as a mature student, the economic landscape had completely changed.  I came back to Dublin and was unemployed for over three months before getting a part time job in March 2009, in the community sector.  I was now receiving help from my family to live and had fallen into arrears on my mortgage.  I’m still in arrears.  The bank have just (March 2012) made another arrangement with me to pay a lesser amount each month so that I don’t loose my house.
But when I bought this house, I was aiming for a different life.  Every thing is different for me now.
This is me.  Financially.  But I have no children, no dependents, I only have me to worry about.  When I came back from the camino I spoke with a friend about how if we didn’t have a network of friends and family, built up over time in our lives, we could very easily become homeless.
There are now thousands of people and their families in arrears on their mortgages in Ireland, there are thousands of families struggling to keep a roof over their head.  Becoming homeless is a very real possibility for thousands of Irish people for whom such a possibility never existed before.

“There is rarely a single cause of homelessness; it is often triggered by a series of things that go wrong in a person’s life, for instance, a period in hospital or prison, mental health issues, addiction, anti-social behaviour or moving into independent adulthood after a childhood spent in State care.  Debt or arrears in paying rent or mortgage have always been a factor in causing homelessness but, with widespread wage cuts ad job losses, these will now take on a much greater prominence.”
– Holding on to a place you can call home – Focus Ireland Strategy 2011-2016.

Who is sleeping out every night?  Why is this happening and why didn’t we do more to change it during the ‘boom time’?
It’s often a glib response to refer to addiction and mental illness as the primary cause of homelessness.  It’s a line of reasoning that puts the onus back on the individual, places the blame for homelessness with the individual experiencing it.  That’s over simplifying in my opinion.  It’s still our problem, as a society, we failed somewhere along the line if the care we provide for people is so weak that it results in people becoming homeless.  We have a responsibility of care for each other, for every person living in Ireland.  We constructed and are continuing to construct this society.  It has been constructed unfairly, with inequality at its core, the evidence is clear with the current bank bail outs and household tax, while simultaneously the Youth Centres, Community Drugs Initiatives, our communities generally experiencing massive cuts to their budgets which is having a major impact on services.  These are front line services which have been working tirelessly to protect and promote the rights of our most vulnerable citizens.  What’s going to happen to them now, where will they go for help and support?  It feels like we are going backwards, all the incremental changes that we’ve made throughout the ‘boom time’ are being rapidly eroded.  And it’s the most vulnerable citizens that will suffer first and most severely.

How do we care for each other?  Does that care extend beyond our own closed network of family and friends?  Do we extend the hand of friendship to strangers, do we share what we can afford to?  How do we as a society care for each other? 
How will this, our city care for me?

Artistic & Philosophical:
What is the role of the artist?
Art for Arts sake seems ridiculous now.
The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
Every day I walk into the Unknown towards the Universe…
ICI et MAINTENANT, HERE & NOW, I have no future, I have no past, just this moment, this microcosm of forever and ever.
"To find out about a process go to its edge, the place where definition begins and take that as your centre. It might be a physical or a social place but in it's broader understanding it's a border, a place of convergence and many stories, a place of difficulty and becoming where skills are learned."  
- Ruth Little, 2011.

Are too busy surviving, addressing our basic needs in this time of economic headship to really look at what’s happening?
The threat to people’s body’s…
What does my body need to survive?  To live in The Life.
Me, outside in this, our city.
I came back from the camino with a new physical confidence, I walked across a country, I can walk out of a city, into a city, through a city

Beyond the practicalities, I want HERE & NOW to look beyond the basic needs, and investigate what it means to us, inside ourselves to be without a home, that feeling of what 'home' means, and the possibility that I can carry my home inside myself no matter whether I have shelter, a base or not.  No matter what the external conditions, there’s a solid core, but what is that, where do we get it and how do we maintain it?  How do we maintain our mental health in the midst of all this chaos?

Every Day I Walk Into the Unknown Towards the Universe
I’m testing the theory.
In walking across Spain on the camino last year I lived by the statement: Everyday we walk into the Unknown towards the Universe.  This is now my starting point, what I experienced on a visceral level will infuse this project.  I had the opportunity to walk and talk with strangers from strange lands, with issues similar to my own, with questions I understood, and solutions I had experienced, some I hadn't.  But beyond that I become more conscious of an essence inside me that made it irrelevant where I slept each night, made what I carried in my backpack lighter each day as I discarded what I didn't really need, what I let go of as I walked and what stayed firmly inside myself. Something like unconditional love and total freedom, a glimpse at that potential state of being.
I think there's a metaphorical resonance there to what's happening to Ireland, to us, at the moment, the collapse of the economic and religious status quo, the letting go, the re-evaluating of what is actually important to us as a community of individuals sharing a tormented island.

My initial motivation is my own brief experience of homelessness at 17, the choices I made then which had a profound and lasting impact on my life.  I remember walking into the Social Welfare Office in Galway city and asking for help, they asked me my age and said there was nothing they could do for me until I was 18.  I walked out of the office and around the city, shortly after I made a decision that changed my life and continued to impact my life and my soul for over a decade.

*While working in admin at the hospital I made a very important friend.  His name was T…. and he lived in the reception area with us from the time we opened until we closed, for about a year to 18 months.  When our department closed he went to A&E and wandered the streets.  He was a long time homeless.  So long in fact that when we organised to get him a bed in a ‘wet shelter’, a staffed hostel where people were allowed to bring and consume alcohol, (there was only one at the time and places were very limited), T…. spent the day in the toilet alone, and when I called down that evening to bring him cigarettes he came out of the loo and said “I’ll walk out with you”.  In all he spent maybe five hours in the hostel.  He was more comfortable in his own routine wandering and then sheltering on the hospital grounds, he felt safe there with us. 
During the same period I volunteered to do the Simon Soup Run on a Saturday night.  One night I met another friend from my work at the hospital, W….., and spent some time trying to convince him to go to the hospital in an ambulance because his leg had swollen up and he was clearly very ill. 
Both my friends, who didn’t know each other, died the same week.

In 2011, I made In My Bed, working in collaboration with Niamh Burke-Kennedy, which is an autobiographical theatre piece which I performed.  It’s about my life, the women I’ve loved, particularly my Granny Vera, it’s about rape(s), it’s about dependence on alcohol and drugs, and it’s about the recovery from all of that to where I am now, or was then in 2011.  It’s about percentages of sexuality and coming out finally.  It’s about becoming, becoming me, opening my heart and holding the space.  People need to say their things and I said mine in In My Bed
I found this in my notebook today from mid process:
22nd May 2011
why did I start this? Because after E…. died I thought I was finished with everything.  I felt like I couldn’t keep pushing through, that there was no point, that I had no energy left, no point to anything, that it was all ridiculous and empty, that Camus was right, that I’d been pushing a rock up a hill for too long and that it was all just a waste of time any way.  That I’d been wasting my life that it could be gone at any second that it was over for me.  That it was best to use my skills and energy facilitating other peoples lives.  That all the people who loved me die, died.  Went away gone.
The Chasm.  Mary “saying me things”
And I started to come out of it.  Started to get my energy back, started to feel alive again.  And I felt.  Felt again like I had stuff to do, and I thought if I’m going to die anyway I have things I want to say before I go.  That I’m as entitled to say these things as any one else.  That I have a place and a voice.  That I have the right and the need to take that space, to claim it, own and stand in the shit.”

I came out of the Fringe last year ‘Radicalized and Confused’.  That’s the phrase I used to try and describe what I was experiencing.  It felt like I was empowered by saying me things, it felt like I made connections with the people who came to see the show, it felt like I did the right thing in pushing through.  But also, as I walked to and from rehearsals (The Lab Foley Street), and getting in and out of the space each day (the venue was a shed in the back of a car park in Temple Bar) I was aware of the madness going on in the city, “awful things are happening out there” I said in a radio interview without even realizing it.  Awful things are happening out there.  I had the idea to work on HERE & NOW during the Fringe Festival as I worked in the bed in the shed.  I knew I wanted to sleep out as part of it, I knew I was going to ask my friends to help me to begin with, I knew I didn’t want to do things without a point, without saying something about where we are now.  I was both Radicalized & Confused. But I was some where else.

I left Dublin after the Theatre Festival to walk the Camino de Santiago.  I had left my job in August to do the show and had wanted to do this walk for about 8 years.  I knew I needed to process the show, the leaving the job, the love, The Life generally, and I had the space and time to do it now.  This is a quote from towards the end of my camino diary:
Wednesday, 30th November 2011
Perhaps.  ‘All is changed, changed utterly’ and I feel happier now sitting here about to depart.  Tranquilo, relaxed, optimistic.  I can make the changes I need to make.  I can clear the financial debt that I have, I can hold and develop my Freedom, Libra in The Life.  All things are possible, all things are free in the Love of God and the Universe, unfolding as it should.”

HERE & NOW I’m somewhere else again.

I came home to Dublin just before Christmas and it’s taken me until now, post-MAKE, a week in Annaghmakerrig to feel here again, to feel real and myself again. Everything I knew on the camino was out of sync with the society in which I live, everything I learned about The Life and The Love and The Universe was difficult to integrate into my daily life.  I changed walking, I changed talking to people, I changed my perspective on living and yet home, it felt like nothing was different.  That wasn’t the Truth, and I am finding my Truth again now, as every day I step into the Unknown towards the Universe.  Again, I’m some where else now.