'Horrible' | 

Homeless Irishman reveals hostel reminds him of 'prison' at Christmas

“I stay awake looking at the bunkbed over me and I cry silently because it reminds me of prison.”
Wayne, from Drogheda, has spent the last three years on the streets

Wayne, from Drogheda, has spent the last three years on the streets

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

While most of us will be sitting down to Christmas dinner this weekend, for Dublin’s homeless community, it will be like any other day...

For homeless man Wayne White, Christmas Day will be just another day on the streets.

Wayne (48) will spend the day on his own, on his patch outside a shop on O’Connell Street, “tapping” for money so he can earn enough to pay for a night in a hostel.

Wayne, from Drogheda, has spent the last three years on the streets.

“It’s horrible,” he says. “I’ve seen people getting stabbed over drugs. Only this morning I seen five deals of crack being handed over.

“I stay in hostels, but I usually only last two days. They’re very violent. I’ve seen one fellah getting cut up, from ear to ear, because he wouldn't share a rock (of cocaine).

“I don’t sleep,” he added. “I stay awake looking at the bunkbed over me and I cry silently because it reminds me of prison.”

Stock image

Stock image

Wayne says that he was in prison, for nearly seven years after he “got life, when I was 17 years of age, for accidentally killing my friend when he went off with my girlfriend.”

Before he ended up on the streets Wayne revealed that he had shown promise as a boxer.

“I was a great boxer, I’d fight in the National Stadium, and I won two gold and silver medals. I won loads of cups and trophies, everything, and they’re all in a big cabinet in my ma’s house and she cleans them every day. Because she loves me so much.

“When I see her, I tell her not to give me money, but she does, she gives me an envelope and there will be 60 quid in it.”

Wayne doesn’t elaborate on why he’s on the streets when he’s still in contact with his mother and, asked what he will do next Saturday, when most of the rest of the country sits down to their Christmas dinners, he replies, “nothing, I’ll just sit here and tap. That’s it for me.”

Wayne was just one of dozens of people who were sitting, huddled up against the wind, begging for money on a bitterly cold day last week. Throughout the city centre there were numerous others, all staking out their spots in the locations that are familiar to anyone walking through town.

There was one woman on the Ha’penny Bridge who did not want to be interviewed and others in College Green and on the street leading to Grafton Street, the city’s main thoroughfare.

Perhaps, because they would be highly visible during the day and therefore would attract attention from passing Gardaí, there were no homeless people on Dublin’s favourite shopping street itself, but some had selected their spots just off it.

One young man, Tom, from Clondalkin, was sitting at the top of Grafton Street, across from the entrance to St Stephen’s Green.

Tom said he had been living on the streets in Dublin for eight years. He told me that how he ended up homeless was “very complicated” and will add only that he fell out with his parents, “and it was all downhill from there”.

Tom has been living on the streets in Dublin for eight years

Tom has been living on the streets in Dublin for eight years

He put his ability to have made it for so long down to simple survival.

He had a James Patterson novel in his hand and explained that he enjoys reading books as it “keeps the mind busy”.

He also had a sign on which he had written: ‘If I get €2 of (sic) 10 people I will get a hot meal and a bed tonight.’

“People can be generous, sometimes,” he says, and he can make €50 on a “good day”.

“But it depends on the day. Not every day is a lucky day,” he says.

He stays in hostels, when he can. They cost €15 a night, but it can be challenge to find a bed and this can also be down to luck.

“You have to dial the freephone at night,” he explains. “If you ring at nine they might say ‘ring back at ten’. And you have to ring them back, on the dot. But when you ring back you might be 40 in line, so there’s 40 people in front of you looking for a bed. You might still get one, but it might be in a bad place.”

Out of every week he stays in a hostel for four or five nights. And on the other nights he just sleeps outside. At this time of year, of course, it’s freezing, but then he also doesn’t feel safe in a hostel.

“The bad thing about the hostel is you can get robbed,” he says. “There was one hostel I stayed in and there wasn’t even a door to the room, it was just a curtain. Somebody could just walk in and rob you, and you wouldn’t even know.”

Despite his eight years being homeless, Tom has never had any trouble on the streets, although he says some people had tried “to fight” him to take his spot, but he held on. And he says the Gardaí generally leave him alone as he knows them from being in the same spot for so long.

“There are certain guards that will try and move you, or they’ll say, ‘just go for walk because the sergeant is around’, and then other guards will just walk by and say nothing to you.”

As he faces another Christmas on the streets, Tom said he believes the situation is deteriorating, with more and more people on the street.

“It’s getting worse, every year,” he says.

Further back along Grafton Street and Alexander (30) was sitting outside the Centra shop on Wicklow Street.

With his knees pulled up under a sleeping bag, Alexander, who is originally from Romania, was visibly shivering from the cold.

He had been there all day and didn’t appear to have that much money in the cup by his feet. Two women went into the shop and as they came out, they left a cup of coffee and a bag of food beside him, for which he was grateful.

Alexander's family of four children are all in emergency accommodation

Alexander's family of four children are all in emergency accommodation

“This helps a lot,” he says, “I’ll take the food home with me, to my family.”

His family of four children are all in emergency accommodation.

“It’s a safe place,” he says, “and they give us a meal at night, and in the morning. That’s the most important thing, it’s a roof over our heads.

“But I don’t have any support, or (welfare) payments, I have nothing at the moment, so I have to make a few quid,” (by begging).

He says he wished he could provide presents for his children so they could have a nice Christmas, but his priority is to make enough money for the basics.

“I have a small baby and the other three children are in school. I have to get money for nappies, or baby food, like formula, so I have to be on the street every day.”

He said he did apply for social welfare support “and filled out forms” but was “still waiting.”

“So, in the meantime, I have to go onto the street,” he adds.

In the meantime, he says he “risks his freedom” every day because “if the gardai catch you in the same spot after moving you on, you can be arrested straight away.”

But he said he is “lucky with the people” who pass by and adds that without the generosity of strangers he does not know what he would do.

“Somebody might give you a €20 note and others just 5 cents or 10 cents, one euro or two euro, but it’s all a blessing.”

Like many others who find themselves on the street, Alexander fell victim to bad fortune.

After arriving in Ireland six years ago he got a job but then he was stabbed "for no reason, on the street, a few years ago."

“I had a job up to this year, as a kitchen porter, but then I got sick, and I couldn’t work anymore.”

He adds that as he struggles just to provide food for his family, this week, even though it is Christmas, will be “just like any other time”.

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