Jack during a shoot for ‘A Beautiful Day In Dublin’ homeless project; Justin Casey
On Thursday morning, in Suffolk Street, Dublin 1, former chef ‘Jack’ Howlett-Watson, who had been sleeping rough in the Superdry shopfront, was found unconscious and later pronounced dead at St James’s Hospital.
That evening, a 26-yearold woman was found dead in the hotel room she shared with her two children, in Leixlip, County Kildare.
Justin Casey was a team leader during the occupation of Apollo House by homlesssness activists last Christmas.
Today we are faced with a daunting reality subjective to the current housing crisis to which our country is submersed.
With figures of families and individuals caught within the social stigma of homelessness constantly on the rise it saddens me to witness that it takes the loss of life in order to bring the crisis to the forefront of the public, media and government alike.
Recent reports provided by Focus Ireland have highlighted that in July alone, over 99 families have become homeless for the first time. With over 8,000 individuals accessing homeless services and emergency accommodation at present it seems that nothing is being done to help prevent the increase of people in Ireland being left without a home.
This week within 24 hours a man and a woman have lost their live in two separate incidents. Both of whom had been accessing homeless services.
It is with a heavy heart I write this as personally through the Apollo house initiative during the winter months leading up to Christmas 2016 I had the honour of meeting and getting to know Jack.
His death is gradually becoming the driving force among members of the community to speak out and stand up for those failed by the system.
With certain media outlets headlining the story ‘’Rough Sleeper dies in Dublin’’ we are left with the callous ideology that a man is to be defined by his situation.
I am outraged by the social acceptance to portraying such a horrendous concept and feel strongly that in both life and death that all individuals should be defined by character alone and not the circumstances to which they are bound.
I first met Jack when he walked into Apollo house. I was volunteering as support team leader.
In my opinion Jack was a very educated and proud individual. He held his head high and was not put off by the daily issues which would get the better of most faced with similar circumstances.
He had a strong handshake and a heart of gold, always first up to make a cup of tea for new residents entering Apollo House.
Jack made an Impact which the staff could not, as when a new resident came into Apollo he would offer to show them around and instantly this would help to neutralise any reservations or worries they may have as he was a resident and not approaching from a ‘staff’ prospective.
You could always find Jack in the kitchen where he found his sense of purpose, and rightly so as he possessed extensive culinary skills.
In terms of his personal life Jack was a very reserved man. In my personal opinion, I suspect this was as a result of constantly being bounced from pillar to post, as having to introduce yourself each time you avail of a new homeless service is very discouraging.
Each one making the same promises as the last but seldom ever delivered.
In my experience refraining from opening up about your personal life can be a very effective defence mechanism to restrict personal connections in the hope of minimising any emotional aspects or damage.
Nevertheless Jack displayed an amazing sense of determination and strength as he progressed in a manner that would inspire each and every one of us. While faced with what seemed an overwhelming situation, the true beauty of his character still prevailed.
I just hope that his passing may not be in vain and that it sparks an immediate call of positive and prominent change in both the system and the light in which those caught in the system are viewed.
Justin Casey is a former rough sleeper and homelessness activist.
Top pic: Geza Oravecz