Dublin man homeless for 33 years says streets are safer than hostels ‘full of drugs’
“In a hostel you go in with a pair of runners and when you wake up in the morning you mightn’t have those runners on you, then you are walking around in your bare feet”
On a typical Tuesday night, a group of Dublin’s homeless wait patiently for the doors of a service centre to open. “A bit of warmth, food and a chat,” said one man as he made his way inside.
Tiglin Lighthouse, a homeless drop-in centre on Pearse Street, provides a “living room for those who need one”, says service manager Allen Bobinac.
Chicken, chips and peas are on tonight’s menu, as well as an array of sandwiches and hot drinks on a cold February night.
Tiglin is one of Dublin’s many homeless charities coping with an increase in demand. January was another record month, with 11,754 people in emergency accommodation, according to the latest figures.
More than 8,000 were located in Dublin. Among those waiting outside was Willie (50), who has been homeless for 33 years and sleeps in a doorway on Pearse Street.
“Life on the streets is not nice. I come in here every day and twice a day when it’s open,” he said.
Willie has been using Tiglin’s services for 12 years and said: “I like the staff, they are great. The friendliness here is brilliant, everyone gets to know each other.
“The first thing I do when I wake up is go straight to an off-licence, I’m an alcoholic. I will drink through the whole day.”
Willie receives a disability allowance of €220 a week and, like many of the city’s homeless, depends on Tiglin Lighthouse for food and clothing.
“I’ll come in for my dinner,” he said, while at night, “I go back to my doorway and get into the sleeping bag.”
Emergency accommodation is available through the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. However, Willie feels safer sleeping rough due to drug use and theft inside the hostels.
“When you ring the freephone they stick you into a hostel and it’s full of drugs. I’m better off on the street, it’s safer,” he said.
“In a hostel you go in with a pair of runners and when you wake up in the morning you mightn’t have those runners on you, then you are walking around in your bare feet.
“You could get a syringe stuck in your neck or your arm. Every hostel in Dublin is full of drugs.”
Willie is planning on participating in the rehabilitation programme at Tiglin, but added, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.
Peter, in his 50s, has been in and out of homelessness since the 1990s and frequently uses Tiglin’s services.
“It started in the 1990s, in and out of it. I just come for the social interaction and the cup of tea,” he said.
The service supplies about 300 meals per day, cooked onsite by a chef and volunteers for lunch and dinner. It also offers counselling, addiction services and housing assistance.
The hot meals on Tuesday night quickly ran out around 8pm due to the demand, and another crate of sandwiches was wheeled in by staff.
Tiglin chairperson, Aubrey McCarthy, says demand for the service is outgrowing the small premises on Pearse Street and food is now running out on most nights.
“The place is getting too small, and it’s something I will have to address down the line,” he said.
“Before, you would have between 40 and 50 people, but now that is averaging anywhere between 170 and 200. I noticed in the last number of weeks we are running out of hot food.”
Many of Tiglin’s volunteers are previous clients of the service who have successfully turned their lives around.
Service Manager Allen Bobinac (26) was homeless for 12 months when he arrived from Croatia with his brother in 2015.
Sleeping in tents in St Stephen’s Green and the Phoenix Park, Allen worked 30 hours per week as a kitchen porter and had no addiction issues.
“It wasn’t enough to get a start…I didn’t have money for a house,” he said.
He began using the Tiglin service in 2016 which enabled him to apply for transitional housing and receive an education.
“Over time I got my master's degree in social care,” he said. “People just need a friendly face and to feel at home, which is what I needed. I just try to be the role I needed back then.”
Allen said the demand for the service has been “sky high” in recent months.
“In the last eight to ten weeks we have been full every day. The numbers keep going up constantly with more and more people coming in,” he said.
Tiglin runs a community employment programme designed to get people in long-term unemployment back to work. It also offers a men’s and women’s residential rehabilitation centre in Wicklow and Kildare.
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