| 4.6°C Dublin

Cold makes capital the city that never sleeps for many homeless

THE flurry of snow has turned to darting, stinging hailstones and after a few moments, the snow is cascading down again in an arctic blanket over the city.

In the Capuchin Day Centre, on Dublin's Bow Street, up to 350 people have gathered for a dinner of soup, turkey and ham with trifle for dessert followed by plenty of cups of tea.

Amongst them is Philip Connolly, a young man originally from Athlone. He used to work at the Capuchin centre, dishing out dinners to those down on their luck, but now is himself homeless and reliant for survival on the very services he provided to others.

On and off drink and drugs for the past six years, he says sleeping rough in these bitterly cold conditions is unbearable. He tries to keep warm, having soup, staying in his sleeping bag and insulating himself with lots of cardboard boxes, but says he "never expected it to be this cold".

"I know my own body and how the street affects it -- I know I'd be dead in a few months if this weather continues," he told the Irish Independent.


Homeless woman Melanie Marshall is handed a clean woollen blanket wrapped carefully in a black plastic bag by one of the Capuchin workers. She is one of about 10 people currently sleeping rough most nights at Store Street Garda Station.

"They're really kind in there -- I can sleep with my back to the radiator and they don't kick us out," she said.

In the worst weather conditions to hit the country in almost 30 years, this, more than any other, is no time to be homeless -- but plenty are. More than 100 people are estimated to be sleeping rough in Dublin city and homeless agencies warn the numbers are rising.

Support services providing soup runs and accommodation aid are operating around the clock to help homeless people to survive the freezing spell.

Paul Matthews, manager of the Simon Communities Rough Sleepers programme, said the homeless charity had nine workers on constant shifts from 8am 'til midnight, with an additional 140 soup-run volunteers.

"Our job is to encourage our clients off the streets and into the beds available.

"Some refuse and we'd have to make sure they have access to a fresh sleeping bag, because if you get wet, you're wet for the night and that's dangerous."

Back on the streets, passersby are anxious to get home to the cosy hearthside and most are oblivious to the lone figure of a young man hunched outside Arnotts on Dublin's Henry Street.

Sometimes there is a tinkle of a coin into TJ's paper cup, or a cup of hot coffee is left gently at his feet by a Good Samaritan.

He says he is constantly amazed at the kindness of strangers. Less than two years ago, the Galway native had a glamourous job managing a string of Irish pubs abroad. But when his relationship with his then girlfriend hit the rocks, TJ turned to drink for solace and his life began to rapidly unravel. He came home to Ireland and his drink habit turned to a hard drug habit.

He has been sleeping rough for almost a year now but tries to get to a hostel most nights because he fears for his health in this cold.

He has not even put his name down on the housing list because he wants to tackle his drugs problem first.

Providing services for the homeless in winter conditions is "pretty grim for all concerned", Neil Forsyth of Focus Ireland's Outreach Day Services explains. "The bottom line is it's dangerous in these conditions and we don't want anybody out there," he said.

Irish Independent