by louis walsh

Cambridge Court is a two story flat complex with just over 30 flats most of which are one room. It’s a square  structure with high railings on the outside. There is a permanently open gate which leads to a common room or day centre in the center  of the complex. Now here is the important bit. If you take away the common room and the gate is permanently left open  (so open that someone can walk in , murder a tenant and walk out) then what you have is a block of flats . You no longer have a sheltered housing unit. You have a block of one room flats with no facilities in a run down deprived area of Dublin- and all the problems that go with that. In these one room flats are old and often lonely isolated people who spend much of their time watching their neighbours die or just looking at the walls.

The common room is a resident free zone. Tonight is Tuesday – bingo night ……..and the place is packed. The lights are on , the tables set , the central heating on full blast.  There’s probably a plateful of biscuits sitting on a small table as you enter the room. If you were to go down to Ringsend right now and walk through the front gate ( that permanently open front gate ) you would be greeted  by a cheery sight – it would gladden your heart.  You might , as you stood there surveying the scene , feel that this is the sort of place where you yourself might be happy  to grow old in . And it’s not just like this on bingo nights , there are many other nights just  like this . There’s a ” Get a Life ” (how ironic can you get- if it wasn’t so perverse it would be comic ) night.   There is a drama/choir group night.  But contrary to what you might think this is not in fact a nice place to grow old in.  And if you lived here you would not be enjoying the bingo , drama/choir/ Get a Life night or any other kind of night.  You , like all the other tenants would be sitting in your one room flat…….. You would learn very soon that all this apparent largesse  was not for your benefit . You would learn that YOU are not wanted.  During the daytime a variation on this theme  would have the same effect. If a tenant was not out walking the streets like some lost soul they would be stuck in their room while  ( particularly in the summer months ) whole armies of people ( many of them criminal types )  would be invited in on one pretext or another. Many of these groups of people would be intimidating simply by their presence.

There is a reason behind all of this. There is a very real benefit for those who impose this state of affairs on the tenants of Cambridge Court. It’s not just some random incidental kind of bullying but a well thought out and quite deliberate strategy that’s works only too well.   The benefit for these people is that everyone in Ringsend thinks that they are wonderful. So do Dublin City Council. And all the local community groups think the same.  Companies like Google who like to ‘help’ senior citizen in the community also think  these people are wonderful. All this bad goodwill gives  power to these bullies.  It make them pretty much invincible . All the powers -that- be  buy into this lie. The whole thing works wonderfully . Everyone is happy.  ….. and if some tenant has the temerity to challenge this lie then he has to be marginalized – he/she has to made just a little more marginalized – a little more isolated than he/she already is. The system works fine ……the system ticks over with the comforting hum of a well tuned engine.  The smooth uninterrupted running of the system becomes an end in itself for some , a means to an end for others. The last thing that’s needed is for some tenant to rock the boat.  It’s not about the tenant any more (perhaps it never was ) . Dublin City Council can claim to be providing good quality housing for senior citizens while a  whole gaggle of other people ,  state and semi-state bodies/social workers/community activists/care workers and various other hangers -on the bask in the glow of their own good work.

The very first person I spoke to /met  when I first moved into Cambridge Court was a man of appx 70 years of age . I had gone across the road to get a carton of milk and when I arrived back at my front door , as I fumbled in my pocket for my door key this man came to his front door.  He asked me if I had just moved in but before I had time to answer he started crying.  It wasn’t the last time I was to see him crying.  He died about a year after this.  His last few weeks and months of life in Cambridge Court were not nice.  There was no one there to protect him from the very real abuse and bullying directed against him.  He was on his own – literally. This is the true story of Cambridge Court. This is the ugly reality behind the facade of sheltered housing. This is the simple unvarnished truth.

You, the reader,  don’t have the luxery of the traditional get – out -of-  jail excuse for doing nothing – that you did not know what was going on. You know now.  I’ve just told you.   And if you continue to read this blog I will tell you even more.