Many men who live alone are isolated, housed in poor and dilapidated conditions and become reclusive about their lives. Some suffer depression as well as a range of other mental illnesses and find communication difficult as their health and living conditions deteriorate. They can be seen by society as “strange” and there is little understanding of the difficult lives they lead. Alone and without the comforts of life that are taken for granted by the rest of society, these men, many with no coping skills for living , are struggling every day. Very little research has been carried out about this particular group of men and it is difficult to get a bigger picture as to how widespread their problems are. Anecdotal evidence and my own personal experiences all point to a real and disturbing marginalisation of these men.
Over the years I have visited many of these men and their living conditions were always a concern for me. Recently I was asked to look into the plight of a single man who lived alone, but as I am unable to do visitation now I asked two other St. Vincent de Paul members to do the needful, which they duly did. This man was not “typical” of the people being visited by the Vincent de Paul and he had never appeared to come to the notice of his community. When I was told of his circumstances I realised things for men like him have not changed much over the years and in fact some cases have got much worse. When visited by the two VdeP members they found that this man lived in intolerable conditions and they immediately took on the onerous job of making his house liveable, for which he is extremely grateful.
Such men are often loners, poor shoppers and many live on a diet of bread, cheese, beans and fries. Some of them live in shocking conditions. Washing bedclothes is a rarity and keeping the house in order is a chore too much for many to do. Their homes are rarely decorated and necessities like blankets and sheets are seldom or never purchased. Cooking equipment is usually very basic and often left in dire need of cleaning. Many go to the pub to be in a warm place and to spare fuel and have company in the process. This is seen by society as an indictment of how they live and treat them as such.
Many alone men who live in rural areas, even on a farm, while they may have an adequate income, they do not have the knowledge or the determination to maintain a house or even to cook a proper meal. They live in cold and damp houses especially if they were built before insulation was introduced. Windows and doors may be draughty and heating non – existent. Many of these men cared for elderly parents and sacrificed their own lives and the opportunities of getting married until it is too late. Their regrets are spoken about in a way that portray their depressed spirits and their inadequate social skills to communicate their situation.
In the recent past men have been let out from mental health institutions to live in the community and are left without the proper resources and back up that they need being put in place. Even though they may be in the minority, their lives are extremely difficult and they find living alone in a flat or in a sheltered house impossible. For these men trying to care for themselves is a challenge and is an indictment on our health services that these vulnerable men are left to their own devices. Men who live alone in rural communities may have no contact with the outside world except for the pub or mass and live lives of deprivation, desperation and loneliness. New laws have exasperated their loss of companionship and company.
Over many years visiting these men I realised that more need to be done to highlight the difficult lives that these men endure and bring focus and attention to their needs. In every town in Ireland and in every rur
al area we have these men eking out a life deprived of the bare essentials and fading into the community. How many of these men die alone in squalor and malnourished? From my experience very many die young, be it from the result of alcohol addiction or malnourishment or a combination of both.
We have at this present time a furore about the homeless and that is right and proper, but why do we have to wait for a death on a street to happen before it becomes a matter of urgency? Those who care about those who are homeless have been shouting loud for many years about the plight of these men with no one in authority listening or caring. Decisions taken by government which included the closure of bedsits added to the problem of homelessness when for some, a bedsit is adequate for the needs of one person to heat and to sleep and it gives these men some social interaction with others. Another bad decision made by those who obviously do not understand.
Men who live alone in flats and unable to care for themselves also die young, their sense of hopelessness evident every day. But because society can turn a blind eye to their voiceless lives, the misery they suffer is pushed under the carpet and they become another statistic. Men do not usually visit the doctor when they are ill and have no one to encourage them to care for their health, hence an escalation of health problems that could have been dealt with earlier.
The reduction of the rent allowance paid to those living in private accommodation and the rent payable for social housing added to the huge pressure on the finances of those who live alone. Trying to live on £188.00 per week with close to 20% of that gone on paying rent, before heating, food and the basic necessities are paid for, is a sad reflection of how those in power expect the vulnerable to survive on their meagre income. For men who live alone with disabilities, poor health and often suffering addictions, society appears to have turned their backs on this very vulnerable and deprived group of our citizens. `
At this time of the year it is imperative that people who know men who live alone take some time to ensure that Christmas will not be spent lonely, marginalised and hungry for those pushed to the fringes of society by the fact they ended up alone in life and becoming just a statistic.
Isn’t it truly amazing that there is so little research or data available on younger men who live alone especially those on social welfare, have a disability or on low incomes. Many of these men are invisible in communities and if they are not in the public eye for drunkenness or public order offences they fade into the background and their lives never come under the spotlight.