Monday 19 March 2018

'They were about to do a day's work, yet were living in a car'

Reporter Jane O’Faherty with homeless couple Natasha Race, Tallaght and Adrian Butler, England. Picture: Arthur Carron
Reporter Jane O’Faherty with homeless couple Natasha Race, Tallaght and Adrian Butler, England. Picture: Arthur Carron

Jane O'Faherty

The twinkling lights over Grafton Street are reflected in dazzling shop windows as passers-by make their way home on a mild winter evening.

But for all the city buzz, there is little or no spotlight on John and Darragh, two young men huddled near a bin on Dublin's shopping thoroughfare.

John has been homeless for seven years, and recently secured a bed in a homeless hostel for six months. But the promise of a warm place to sleep doesn't make him feel any safer.

"A fella keeps coming in drunk at night, and junkies try to run us out of the house all the time," he says. "It's often a lot safer on the streets."

However, John says it's made easier by the presence of two volunteers from Dublin Simon. "We were out last night, down a lane at around 1.30am.

"Two of the volunteers came down to us with tea.

"They are going down dark lanes where things would actually happen to you. But they'd have no problem with that, just to give you a cup of tea or pair of socks."

I've joined Veronica Cullen and Mark Mulrooney, two Dublin Simon volunteers, on their beat in the city centre. With a suitcase full of warm clothes and a flask of soup in each hand, they are regular faces on the charity's nightly soup run.

But Mark, from Swords, says it goes far beyond just a cup of soup and a sandwich.

He is a regular volunteer with Dublin Simon, and says he's seen "a lot of new faces" in the recent past.

"Tonight, there seems to be more women on the streets than usual," he said.

A few steps away from St Stephen's Green, we chat to Natasha Race and Adrian Butler over a cup of soup.

Adrian has been homeless for seven years, but says increasing numbers on the street have made life even more difficult.

"It's gotten more difficult for us," he said. "There are more people becoming homeless every day."

"But I love the soup," he tells us. "I can't stop drinking it. I'm going to be asking for more now in a minute."

Close by in the southside of the city centre, Dublin Simon outreach workers Martina Bergin and Elaine Redmond are giving clean needles to those suffering addiction.

In the midst of the homeless crisis and rising rents, they have seen a stark change in the demographic of people seeking their help.

"We have a lot of people in cars recently," Martina said.

"The other day, I was down on the early morning count and I passed this really nice car," she recalls. "I slowed down and then I could see the people stuffing their sleeping bags into the boot, and the man putting on his suit.

"You knew by the way the windscreen was that they had been sleeping in that car," she said.

"They were about to do a day's work, and all that they had was living in the car."

As many as 30 more people have been forced to sleep in St Stephen's Green and Phoenix Park this winter, according to Martina.

We make our way to the charity's Mobile Health Unit, a bus that delivers free primary care to those in need. Rough sleepers and those in emergency accommodation are looked after by trainee GPs, provided by Safetynet Ireland.

Carol, a young woman in her 20s, is one of the first in the queue. She has been in and out of homelessness for four years, and hasn't been in touch with her family since she was 18.

Future GPs Aisling O'Shea and Emma White are on duty this evening.

Mental health issues, wound infections and chest infections are the most common complaints they see.

Aisling said the unit is a "gap" for people who cannot access routine healthcare.

"A lot of the time, there would be prejudice or some worry that their doctors would blame it all on their addiction. But they know coming here they're not going to be met with that. I think that takes a barrier away."

Irish Independent

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