The death of a homeless man in a doorway last week within sight of the gates of the Dail (Parliament) has led to an outcry over the growing number of those who are now sleeping rough in Dublin and elsewhere around Ireland.
The fact that it happened in the run up to Christmas made it an emotional story, even more so when we learned more about the life of the unfortunate man who died, Jonathan Corrie.
But the fact that it happened only 20 or 30 paces from the front of the Dail turned the tragic incident into a national embarrassment which made people here deeply uncomfortable. How could such a thing happen so close to the national Parliament?
The result was that it became a big national story here last week, as though an event like this is unique. But the truth is that Jonathan Corrie is far from the only one.
Two homeless people died in Cork over the last two weeks. Two other people sleeping rough died in Tralee in Co. Kerry recently, within weeks of each other. And there have been a number of others both in Dublin and in various places around the country over the past year.
The sad fact is that while the austerity of the past few years has made life hard for many people here, for others who have fallen off the bottom rung of the Irish society ladder it has been literally deadly.
Although it is hard to be definitive about the figures, it is thought that in recent weeks there have been around 180 people sleeping rough in Dublin every night, which is almost double the number it was a couple of years ago. A few dozen people also sleep rough every night in cities like Cork, Limerick and Galway, and the numbers there have also increased rapidly over the past two years.
The public anger and shock at the death of Jonathan Corrie and at the plight of rough sleepers in the very cold weather we have now is understandable. Charities and NGOs that deal with the homeless were all demanding action last week, saying that the number of people who are ending up on the streets has grown sharply this year.
But as we all know this is a complex problem and it is not unique either to Ireland, even after the economic crash, or to a city like Dublin. There are homeless people every night on the streets of London, Paris, Berlin or New York. Ireland and Dublin are not any worse than anywhere else in the supposedly rich west.
Here in Ireland, there is a major housing crisis that is affecting not just what are called chronic rough sleepers, but settled individuals and families who never imagined that one day they might end up being homeless. There is some crossover between the two groups because of the fallout from the economic crisis we have been through. But the solution to the overall problem is not necessarily the same for both groups.
We will look at the overall housing problem below, but let us first look at the problem of chronic rough sleepers.
Jonathan Corrie was a chronic rough sleeper. He had a heroin problem and was known to volunteer workers who help the homeless.
He had, in fact, been offered a place in a hostel several nights before he died but had turned it down because of previous bad experiences he had in hostels. This is not unusual even in very cold weather among the chronic rough sleepers.
Corrie was 43 and from Carlow. He had a wife and two teenage children who live down the country. His wife courageously spoke on TV last week in the wake of his death, explaining that they had made efforts over the years to keep in contact with him, although sometimes finding him on the streets of Dublin had been difficult.
Corrie moved to Dublin around 10 years ago because he needed to be near a drugs clinic. He was a good man, his wife said, but he liked to move around.
It also emerged that his mother had bought him a home in an effort to help him, but he had lost it because of his addiction. One social worker who had been in contact recently described having a coffee with him one day and giving him a phone so he could ring his mother and talk.
Various efforts were made to help Corrie, but he slipped through the cracks. Although we won't know what he died from until an inquest is held, it seems likely that he misjudged his ability to survive a cold night in a doorway.
That is not unusual. Many of the homeless who die do so because they feel insulated from the cold by drink or drugs when they settle down for the night, but succumb to hypothermia hours later.
There have been angry demands in the past week for the government to step in immediately and provide beds for the night in basic emergency accommodation so that at the very least no one will have to sleep rough on a freezing night. A meeting between the minister involved and various organizations that deal with the homeless was held and action has been promised.
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny spent three hours on the streets of Dublin one night last week with volunteers who work with the homeless to see the problem at first hand and talk to the individuals involved. He was clearly shocked and moved by what he saw, but he rightly stressed that there are no easy answers.
We don't have enough hostels and that can be fixed. But the truth is that there will always be a small number of people who sleep rough because that is what they want to do.
Most of them have drink and drug problems and mental health issues. Helping them back into society by dealing with their complicated problems takes a lot of resources, more social workers and medical workers, addiction treatment centers and so on.
Even the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, a man who knows the city well, accepted last week that simply providing more money may not solve the problem of rough sleepers.
The two state agencies that deal with this, the Department of the Environment and the Health Service Executive, together are already spending €30,000 a year on every homeless person in the country, according to the official figures.
For the estimated 2,660 homeless people in the country, that adds up to €78 million a year, with most of the money being channeled through the 20 charities and organizations that offer services for the homeless.
Yet despite this, a few hundred people, one of them being the late Jonathan Corrie, end up sleeping rough.
Apart from chronic rough sleepers, there is a wider aspect to the housing problem which is deeply worrying and which is a direct result of the economic crash and the pressure that put on so many people already existing on the margins.
In deprived areas in Dublin and other cities, where unemployment is still very high, this has led to family disintegration, teenagers and young adults leaving or being forced out of family homes because of violence, addiction problems, depression and so on. These people have added to the number of rough sleepers on the streets.
Even among people from what used to be coping and stable households, there is a major problem now. There is a whole new category of people who are at risk of ending up on the streets because they have lost their jobs or have very low paid jobs and cannot pay the higher rents now being demanded by landlords.
This second category includes people who never expected to find themselves in the situation where they become homeless. But the soaring rents, particularly in the Dublin area, over the past year have had a major impact.
This is a legacy of the property crash here, which put a stop to new house building. When the collapse happened, construction came to a halt. Builders went out of business. We went from building 90,000 homes a year to a few thousand.
The result is that the supply of new homes now available is way behind what is needed, especially in the Dublin area. This has led to the sharp increase in house prices we have seen over the past two years (prices in Dublin are up over 20 percent this year alone). And the knock on effect is that many more people are now renting, so rents are way up and still increasing.
When these people cannot pay the higher rents they are moved on by landlords. The rent supplement payments given by the state to poor people, including those on welfare, are now significantly behind the market rent levels and the situation is getting worse.
So we have a crisis that is happening at different levels, thanks to the mess that is the Irish property market.
People who never thought they could become homeless are on the streets, or in temporary accommodation. Families who find themselves in this situation end up in cheap hotel rooms paid for by the state, usually one room per family, because there are no houses to put them in.
There are currently around 800 children in this kind of emergency accommodation in the Dublin area, with few facilities. It's a miserable, uncertain existence that is very unsuitable for kids.
Some of these individuals and families spend several days on the streets before they manage to access emergency hotel accommodation. The few hostels that exist, run by charities, don't have room for them and they are really only suitable for single people anyway.
So we have a housing crisis that is affecting not just the kind of people who are the usual rough sleepers.
The government recently announced an impressive new action plan for building more homes, including a lot of social housing, but it will be several years before that makes a significant inroad into the problem we have. And that assumes they actually deliver on the plan.
Meanwhile, the homeless problem is more evident every day on the streets. And one aspect of all this, another of the high-minded things dreamed up by all the do-gooders we have in Irish society, has added to the problem we now have in Dublin.
This was the recent legislation banning bedsitters, the one room apartments in subdivided old houses where the occupants of each floor shared a bathroom. In future, the new law said, every bedsit would have to have its own bathroom and landlords were given a deadline for converting their houses. In many cases this did not make financial sense, so the landlords sold up and got out of the bedsit business.
Ironically, one of the things that Corrie had said when he was interviewed some time ago was that he was hoping to get off the streets and get a bedsitter one day.