| 21.6°C Dublin

'i never thought i'd be sp ending my 30th birthday sleeping rough on the streets'

Even in homelessness there can often be a class divide. Some of those sleeping rough do so with pins in their pockets, while others can be found reading their books.

"If someone goes to rob you and they feel pins they'll think it's a dirty needle and they'll run," explains Anthony (29), who's sleeping rough on O'Connell Bridge.

"This is what I use," says the young man from Tipperary as he raises scissors.

"It's my 30th birthday in two days," says Anthony as he pauses briefly and looks across the Liffey.

"I never thought I'd be spending it here."

Anthony fell into homelessness after being made redundant and he went to Dublin to look for work, but he never found any.

"I purposely got myself locked up there before Christmas - it was too cold. My friends do that too," he says.

He admits to having "used" - heroin was his drug of choice. He has relapsed on a number of occasions, because it is "too hard on the street", but has not used drugs since January.

Alex, from Mayo, has a carbon copy story.

During the Celtic Tiger when he had plenty of work and money he dabbled in recreational "party drugs".

He worked as a stone mason and when work dried up in Connacht, he decided to go to Dublin. But just like Anthony, there was no work for him here either.

While sleeping rough he turned to heroin for comfort.

Clothed

John and Anthony were just two of the 150 homeless people fed and clothed by Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) last Thursday night.

ICHH started in a pub off Amiens Street just before Christmas by a group of friends and nine months later they have approximately 200 volunteers and are planning on expanding from their two-nights-a-week run to a five-nights-a-week operation.

Its founder, Anthony Flynn, says they have helped 7,500 homeless people, giving out 8,000 sandwiches and 10,000 cups of tea and coffee, during this period.

Move across the Liffey to Grafton Street and the profile of the rough sleepers changes.

"They ask us for torches or head lamps here so they can read their books," explains Aidan Bolton (21) who works full-time in the financial sector. He also volunteers with ICHH taking care of public relations and fundraising.

"A lot of them would be educated. They're out rough because businesses collapsed, they missed mortgage repayments or they had relationship difficulties," says Tony Sweeney, who volunteers full-time with the charity.

"There's a difference between the north and the south side," he adds. "There are classes even in homelessness."

Stephen (39) sleeps close to Store Street Garda Station and prefers the street to hostels.

"You'll just get robbed in there," he says.

"There could be 17 beds in there and you won't go to sleep."

Stephen has never touched drugs - but he admits to having an addiction.

"I'm a gambler. I missed rent. I'm out on the street nearly two and a half years. I don't really mind it," adds Stephen.

Other hotspots, like the Siptu building and the Custom House are the reserve of couples.

At the Custom House, a young couple, Andrew and Claire, are tucked in behind the railings and have set up camp for the night using cardboard.

ICHH have to disturb them in order to offer them a cup of tea and some food.

Claire stays behind in her nook and Andrew comes up to the railing.

He takes sandwiches for his girlfriend and then he asks if there are any clothes. "Have you any size 10 jeans or jumpers?" he asks on Claire's behalf. Having received their goods they settle back down for the night.

Every Wednesday and Thursday night ICHH splits up into five smaller groups and covers a five-mile radius of the city distributing sandwiches, tea, coffee, bars, crisps and soup. ICHH receives no state funding and is completely volunteer-led.

Jason O'Reilly (25) is a volunteer and he sums up the work best.

"The most these people want is a chat, they spend 23 hours a day by themselves, the chat - yeah that's the most important thing," he said.

jfegan@herald.ie


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