Monday 26 September 2016

Watch: In-depth - Surviving the night on the capital’s streets

On the same cold December night that Taoiseach Enda Kenny took part in a soup run and later promised to deal with the country’s spiralling homeless crisis, our reporter Sam Griffin also took to the streets. Nine months on, he finds out the only thing that has improved is the weather...

Sam Griffin

Published 15/08/2015 | 02:30

This time, there’s no perished men shaking with the cold outside the GPO. And the requests for heavy winter jackets and thick blankets have been replaced by those for lighter tops, tracksuit bottoms, underwear and toiletries.

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But still sandwiches are handed out; hot tea is still poured into plastic cups; and still those with no home to go to depend on the goodwill of others to survive another night. The weather has improved but the stories remain the same.

Charlotte (20) from Dublin, who lived in care all through her childhood and has been homeless for the past three years
Charlotte (20) from Dublin, who lived in care all through her childhood and has been homeless for the past three years

The Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) organisation, now approaching its second anniversary, continues to pound the capital’s streets every night.

It was one of its teams that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny joined on a soup run in December, in the days following Jonathan Corrie’s death, and he later spoke of the experience as a “revelation”.

This week, ICHH were also the ones who revealed a Romanian family, with three children under the age of five, had been discovered preparing to sleep rough in Mountjoy Square Park.

Rather than the situation getting better, ICHH sees it deteriorating at an alarming pace,

“It’s getting worse and worse every night. We’re dealing with more people. It fluctuates from night to night but what we are seeing is a lot of new faces,” explains one of the group’s founders, Elaine McCann.

She also reports that the Romanian family, whose plight has propelled the homeless crisis back into the national psyche, has secured temporary accommodation. But the discovery of family’s situation did not come as a surprise to Elaine as the ‘type’ of homeless person changes on a nightly basis.

“We’ve seen everything. We’ve come across a former police officer from Los Angeles; we came across the daughter of a top Dublin barrister one night. On one of our first nights, we found a mother and father with their two children beside the Luas tracks. To find the family this week wasn’t a surprise.”

Four groups leave from the ICHH base on Killarney Street every night. We’re in one of the northside groups and head towards the city centre, up Talbot Street and onto O’Connell Street, where a young man – looking clean and trim – asks me where Cedar House hostel is.

“He’s new to the street,” Elaine explains after pointing him towards Marlborough Street. “We haven’t seen him before but you can tell when they’re new. We offered him a sandwich but he didn’t want one. He said he got fed in his Nan’s. God love him.”

In the past, one ICHH group based itself outside the GPO for a few hours each night. But this has stopped since March, when one volunteer had boiling water thrown over her.

We find our next man trying to sleep under the stalls on Moore Street. He is Muslim and so gets a specially prepared offering. One volunteer says he was very talkative in the past, but has recently stopped speaking to the group. He takes his food and says “thank you”.

Outside Supermac’s on O’Connell Street, an Asian man in a T-shirt gratefully accepts a cup of tea and a sandwich and a smile spreads across his face.

“You people are like...” He cuts off to point to the sky overhead. “You are like angels from the mother.”

On O’Connell Bridge, we meet a pregnant woman. She tells us she’s six months on, holding her swollen belly, but doesn’t want to tell us her name. She’s endeavouring to get a sleeping bag for the night.

A minute later she is joined by Charlotte (20), who is skinny and pale with blonde hair tied up at the back.

She tells us she has been on the streets since she was 17, having been in care all her life before that.

“I got raped in care and I’ve been on the streets since. I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m on my own, totally on my own,” she says in an unrecognisable accent.

“I’m from Dublin. I don’t sound like it because I was in care all my life. Now I’m here,” she says before she disappears into a crowd crossing the street at the traffic lights at the junction of Westmoreland Street.

The group has gone on ahead and we catch up with them outside the Bank of Ireland at College Green, where Thomas, a Hungarian national, is sitting with his puppy Lucy.

She looks like a Jack Russell and playfully chews on her lead.

Thomas was a construction worker for 10 years here before the crash. He lost his home when his bankrupt landlord fled the country. Homeless for 14 months, now he sleeps in a tent with Lucy and his former flatmate in the Phoenix Park each night.

“I just lost my job; I lost my place where I live. Without an address, I can’t get social welfare payments and without social welfare payments, I can’t get an address. If I could get €1,000 to cover a deposit and a month’s rent in a bedsit, then I would have an address and can sort out social welfare payments,” he says unprompted.

“That’s what I have to do.”

We move down the quays to the Custom House where, behind the locked, five- foot-high iron gates one woman is pacing up and down, stumbling occasionally and shouting sporadically. She’s visibly distressed.

The volunteers say she has taken something.

“There’s no point in calling an ambulance. They won’t take her,” Elaine says. The woman shouts out something – but it’s almost entirely indecipherable. She says something about being a mother and that she has children, from behind the iron bars.

Therese (38) and Philip (62) have settled in for the night in sleeping bags in a doorway opposite Bus Áras.

Therese, a mother of one from Ballyfermot, is one of the ‘new homeless’. She has been on the streets just four days. It’s her first time homeless.

“I don’t talk to my family. My mother passed away 11 years ago. She was my best friend. We worked together. She was everything to me and when she passed away the whole family just broke away,” she says. “I have a 12-year-old son and they won’t take kids into a hostel so I’m here. But he doesn’t actually know I’m here. He thinks I’m at a friend’s house. I can’t put that worry on him,” she adds.

“He’s OK, he’s with his dad.”

Therese says she’s owed back payments from welfare. Her plan is to get into a hotel or B&B and then she can use that as her address to receive the payments.

“Please God, I can then find somewhere that accepts welfare allowance. It’s all just happened so quickly over the last few days,” she says, looking towards Philip, who nods along. “I just never saw this coming.”

And that was it. Just another ordinary night in our capital city.

Irish Independent

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