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Covid fears Homeless crisis sees Dublin's Henry Street turned into a tent city

Thoroughfares become camp sites for rough sleepers

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Homeless people setting up for the night in tents on deserted city centre streets.

Homeless people setting up for the night in tents on deserted city centre streets.

Homeless people setting up for the night in tents on deserted city centre streets.

It's a phenomenon that has seen Dublin city centre's busiest shopping streets become a refuge for destitute homeless, who are flocking to the area with their tents.

Many of the capital's parks and canal areas have already become tented villages, but now rough sleepers are turning to the city's commercial heart as their temporary home.

Ireland's second-busiest shopping area, Henry Street, is now bristling with rows of tents, pitched outside once-bustling department stores.

In pre-pandemic times, Henry Street had a footfall of 8,505 people an hour, not far behind Grafton Street's 8,802 an hour.

But with late-night shopping now a thing of the past thanks to lockdown, homeless people are now sheltering outside the now defunct Debenham's department store and in surrounding offshoots on the northside, such as Liffey Street and Moore street, and further afield, outside the Living Room bar on Cathal Brugha Street

Others sleep in doorways in their sleeping bags on North Earl Street and Mary Street.

The country's poshest street, Grafton Street, is free from this so-called 'blight', largely because not only do gardaí not allow rough sleepers pitch tents there, but they also discourage crashing out in doorways in their sleeping bags or in cardboard boxes on the high-profile thoroughfare.

"I'm here about three weeks," confessed a homeless woman sleeping in a tent outside Debenhams on Henry street, who did not want to give her name but said she was originally from Co. Westmeath.

"This is my own tent. I can't get housed by the council because I've a dog, who's aged 10 months. There is no way I'm giving up my dog."

She picked at a breast of chicken from a snack box as she complained about the homeless crisis.

"It's safer here on the streets though rather than in one of those hostels they put you in, which are full or drugs and where you get robbed."

The woman was being visited during our call by a male Dubliner, who tells us he's living in a hostel.

"I'm homeless two years now," revealed the man, who said he is aged 39. "I became homeless after I was bullied in work and lost my job. Maybe it was the best thing that ever happened me because I would still be bullied.

"I got my own room in the hostel, so I'm doing OK."

Another man with poor English, who said he was from Romania, said he was going to put up his tent in a nearby doorway.

Hundreds

Our team passed by the GPO on O'Connell Street, which in the evenings houses soup kitchens, to which hundreds of people flock for whatever morsels they can get.

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Homeless people setting up for the night in tents on deserted city centre streets.

Homeless people setting up for the night in tents on deserted city centre streets.

Homeless people setting up for the night in tents on deserted city centre streets.

On the southside of the city one woman pitched a tent at the foot of the Henry Grattan statue on Dame Street, in the shadow of Trinity College as Luas trams whizzed by.

She refused offers of money. When told we were from the media she said: "Get away from me, the media is what is rotten with this country."

At the top of Grafton Street two homeless friends were begging for money, while a third man with an English accent got cardboard boxes to sleep on for the night outside the Gaiety Theatre, as the rain began to pour down on Friday night.

"I'm homeless on and off for the last 12 years," said Danny McDonagh (41), who is originally from Belfast. "I ended up on the streets because of personal reasons. I was married with four children, but haven't seen them in a few years."

He was facing the night sleeping in a doorway.

"We had a tent and we had it pitched in St Stephen's Green, but it was stolen off us. We don't know who took it. We got it off one of the homeless charities. We don't like staying in the homeless hostels as they're very dangerous.

"We'd prefer to stay in the backpacker's hostel, which is €18.50 a night, so that's why we try and beg for money to stay there. It looks like we're going to be out in the cold tonight again."

Danny was accompanied by Gerard Byrne (43).

Married

"I am originally from the Wicklow Mountains, and I am homeless near 14 or 15 years," he said. "There's a lot of hassle in the homeless hostels, so I avoid them."

Streetlink, a homeless support group, highlight one case they dealt with earlier this week. "The DRHE (Dublin Regional Homeless Executive) hostel system isn't fit for purpose," they stormed.

"We came across a 50-year-old male sleeping in a doorway on Henry Street. We contacted Dublin intake to get him accommodation for the night. It turns out the gent had two weeks accommodation already booked in a hostel on the northside of the city but was refusing to accept it due to the low standards within the hostel.

"Standards (are) that low he would prefer to sleep in a cold, wet doorway than in a hostel bed."

The group gave him a tent, sleeping bag and hot meal. They also got him medical attention as he had a chest infection.

There are approximately 10,000 homeless people in Ireland.

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 Homelessness in Dublin

Homelessness in Dublin

Homelessness in Dublin

Councillor Anthony Flynn who spearheads Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) said the people are fearful of moving into hostels because of the Covid crisis.

"At the height of shopping and social activity in the city centre many of the homeless tended to stay away as you'd have drunk people throwing up on people sleeping rough and even urinating on them," he told the Sunday World.

"The tendency is that people would sleep in well-populated areas for safety, as they thought they'd be safer. But that in itself caused its own anti-social problems, particularly when nightclubs and later bars were open.

"What we have found in recent weeks and particularly with Covid, is many people are moving with tents into the city centre and other areas as they are fearful of picking up the virus in a hostel environment, where there are four or five people to a room and they're telling us they don't want to share places with people they don't know."

Fearful

Mr Flynn added that many of the homeless people who've been found dead in recent weeks have been on the outskirts.

"One lady was three or days dead in a tent before she was found," he said. "Now we are looking at them coming into the city centre as they think they'd be seen or noticed in case they have a problem."

He confirmed there have been Garda operations to keep not only homeless people off Grafton Street, but also his own team.

"There has been an issue with outreach support teams on Grafton Street, where some guards did not want our vehicles driving up and down Grafton Street, when it was busy, even if we wanted to access somebody there," he pointed out.

"We are also working in smaller groups of two rather than four due to Covid, which makes if more difficult."

He claimed the number of rough sleepers in Dublin has dropped from about 150/160 a night prior to Christmas to about 80 a night now.

"We have seen those numbers going back up because they can't socially distance within hostels."

He suggested a number of measures to address the crisis.

"I have called on Darragh O'Brien (Housing Minister) to activate the Civil Defence and ensure we have a logistical response to people who are sleeping rough to make sure we do everything we can for them," he said. "We need to increase funding for Outreach."

He also raised the case of Michael 'Old Man Belfield' Byrne, a 71-year-old was who found dead in the grounds of UCD earlier this week.

"He was one of the first people on the first pilot project in 2010, and 10 years later nothing could be done for him," Mr Flynn said.

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