Wednesday 24 April 2019

It’s 11pm at the GPO. A homeless man is shaking with the cold...

The death of Jonathan Corrie shocked the nation. On Thursday, when all the shoppers had gone home, Sam Griffin spent the night on the street with those who had nowhere else to go

Sam Griffin

10.15pm: We meet with the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) group of volunteers, based in Killarney Street, Dublin 1. This is now a nightly excursion for the volunteers who split into five groups covering the north and south sides of the city.

"The numbers have been increasing all the time," explains Aidan Bolton, who leads our northside group. "Of course, we shouldn't have to be here at all. We met a Danish guy out one night. He couldn't believe what were doing. He thought homelessness was a problem in developing countries."

11.05pm: The group stops outside the GPO where clothes and food are distributed. Some homeless are already waiting. Andrew Talbot is among them. He's been robbed and is shaking with the cold. He's given a jacket and gloves.

"I'm just back from Brighton. I've been on the streets two weeks," he says. "There's problems at home which is why I'm on the streets."

He's visibly upset. We're told by a volunteer he suffers from anxiety.

"Everywhere I try to go I'm constantly getting robbed and attacked. They're not homeless, just drunks."

12.25am: The group heads south, and turns left towards Custom House Quay where three men are settling into a tent for the night. Robert Knowles Byrne (33), from Wicklow, tells us he was released from prison a fortnight ago. "After getting released, I got one night in a hostel. That was it. Now I'm sleeping in this tent.

"I had cancer back in 2008 so things went bad from there. I started on drugs. It led from there. I got locked up…a couple of things went wrong," he says. "It's all down to drugs really. But they're still not doing enough for the homeless."

Others don't want to give us their names. One of the men doesn't want to be photographed and pulls his hood tight. The other man, Thomas, knocks over Robert's cup, spilling tea on the tent. A brief row erupts.

1am: We return to the GPO where more homeless people have congregated, silhouetted by the bright lights from the nativity scene inside the post office window. Melissa O'Sullivan has been on the streets for 13 years. She says she has been raped six times and has contracted Hepatitis.

She's angry the Government isn't doing more to tackle homelessness. She starts to cry.

"I didn't deserve to be on the street. Two of my friends died of hypothermia and nothing was said at all. Their bodies weren't even claimed. That's all a load of cobblers."

She talks about her family, getting more upset. "I love my father. I love everybody in my house. I wish I was with them. It breaks my heart being on the street."

Melissa knows some of the volunteers. She cheers up and hugs some of them goodnight. She heads up O'Connell Street before turning down Henry Street and out of sight.

I ask where she is going. "She just moves around. She does her own thing," a volunteer offers.

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Another 20-year-old man at the GPO, who says his name is Dean Martin, refuses to be filmed. He says he was contemplating suicide earlier in the night.

"I do be happy sometimes, or low, sad. Crying and all, you know. It's horrible, it's horrible being on the streets.

"And I'm only on the streets two weeks. It's rough. I feel seriously ill at the moment, you know," he tells us, surveying the group.

1.45am: The volunteers are finishing up for the night. It is Niamh Noonan's first night out with the group. I ask her why she came out.

"I think everyone should do it. I think that is where the answer lies. Everyone should be obliged to do this. It's only a few hours or one night a week every now and then.

"It's the cold that made me think of people on the streets. When I'm coming home from work. I think it would be awful to have nowhere to go."

Read more: Tough realities of trying to survive on the capital's streets  

2.15am: We're on Molesworth Street where half a dozen candles are lit in tribute to Jonathan Corrie. There's wax on the ground, as well as dozens of flowers, a packet of biscuits, and a can of cider, among other items. There are cards as well. One of them says 'Dad'.

3am: David Quinn is in his sleeping bag on Grafton Street , adorned in festive lights. He's reading a book, 'The Cobra' by Frederick Forsyth. He loves reading. Dan Brown is his favourite.

He shows me two syringes and says he has just taken heroin. He has also served prison time, like most of the young men we've spoken to.

"I'm 34 years old and I'm homeless. I'm out of prison a couple of months and I'm back to square one. I think I overdosed half an hour after getting out of prison. It's like ground-hog f***ing day, that's what it is."

He agrees to speak on camera in exchange for two large strawberry milkshakes.

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3am: Just 20m down the street is Martin, a former construction worker and father-of-two, who says the economic crash and a gambling addiction has brought him here.

"I gambled my own saving and my ex-partner's savings. She kicked me out and depression set in then."

"I don't blame her," he adds. "How could I blame her?"

He was on RTE radio earlier but has no way of hearing it. I play the report to him on my phone. He's happy with it, but not the services available to the homeless.

"I was in a hostel but there's none for non-substance related addictions.

"You could be attacked, robbed. There's drink and drugs. I had to get out."

He spends three nights a week in another hostel, and gets to see his son but wants to find a job and a home.

"My son is why I have to get back. I'm 51 years of age. I want to enjoy the rest of my time with him."

3.56am: Most of the homeless we see are trying to get some sleep. We decide to leave. Home to warm beds and welcoming families.

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