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covid pandemic Homeless tell of life on Dublin streets: ‘You’re made to feel like scum and no one cares about you’

The reality on the ground for some of Ireland’s most vulnerable is that many who have no place to stay find the streets safer than the city’s hostels, where the threat of drug-related violence is constant.

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Homeless man Paddy, 30, gets help from Inner City Helping Homeless in Dublin’s City Centre.
Photo: Tony Gavin 15/12/2020

Homeless man Paddy, 30, gets help from Inner City Helping Homeless in Dublin’s City Centre. Photo: Tony Gavin 15/12/2020

Homeless man Paddy, 30, gets help from Inner City Helping Homeless in Dublin’s City Centre. Photo: Tony Gavin 15/12/2020

As 2021 is starting to look a lot like 2020, concerns are growing for the vulnerable people living on Dublin’s streets after 57 lost their lives last year.

A review is being carried out into the increase in deaths in a year marked by a number of tragic events involving homeless people.

A man from Eritrea was paralysed when his tent was cleared by a digger from the banks of the Grand Canal last January; in September, a 39-year-old man was found dead in a laneway after suffering serious injuries to his head; while two rough sleepers died in the Phoenix Park over the Christmas period.

At 8pm on December 16, gardaí were called to the scene of a fire in Dublin city centre after a homeless person’s tent was set alight. Nobody was injured but all their belongings were destroyed.

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Avril Darker of Inner City Helping Homeless who bring food and essential clothing to the rough sleepers in Dublin’s City Centre and surrounding areas.
Photo: Tony Gavin 15/12/2020

Avril Darker of Inner City Helping Homeless who bring food and essential clothing to the rough sleepers in Dublin’s City Centre and surrounding areas. Photo: Tony Gavin 15/12/2020

Avril Darker of Inner City Helping Homeless who bring food and essential clothing to the rough sleepers in Dublin’s City Centre and surrounding areas. Photo: Tony Gavin 15/12/2020

Just around the corner from the incident, volunteers from charity Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) were preparing to deliver food and supplies to the people sleeping rough across the city.

The loss of lives last year was described as an “unprecedented spike” by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE). While the DRHE confirmed in mid-December that the number of deaths stood at 57, it is expected this number will now be higher. The DRHE did not provide up-to-date figures in time for publication despite requests.

The reality on the ground for some of Ireland’s most vulnerable is that many who have no place to stay find the streets safer than the city’s hostels, where the threat of drug-related violence is constant.

Many of these hostels are also overcrowded and people have chosen to leave them as they fear being infected with Covid-19.

The latest figures available show there have been 82 confirmed cases across homeless services in the capital.

Leon (53) has been homeless on and off for the last four years and now spends his nights sleeping in a car park close to Leinster House. He suffers from arthritis in his knee and a hernia condition.

“I’ve been calling into the council’s office to enquire about accommodation and it’s ironic how they all have their sanitiser and perspex screens but then they’re trying to put you into hostels which are completely unsafe and overcrowded,” he told the Irish Independent.

“I’ve stayed in a room with three sets of bunk-beds and even when you’re sleeping you can’t socially distance. I’ve had my belongings robbed and been threatened with knives.

“This year has been really hard. There’s a common misconception out there that people are homeless because they want to be and because of the life choices they’ve made, but nobody wants to live like this.”

Four men sleeping outside the Gaiety Theatre near St Stephen’s Green feel safer there because the street is lined with security cameras.

Lee (29), originally from Coolock, north Dublin, has been homeless for six years.

“There are always troublemakers going around trying to take your belongings and damage the tents, but it’s still better than being stuck in a room with 10 other people”.

Two of his friends he met in a hostel took their own lives last year.

“There’s been too many deaths. It’s really hard as there’s nowhere to go. I’ve been attacked while staying in hostels and they’re just a nightmare. This year has been really hard with the pandemic and everything.”

Paddy (30) has been living on the streets for over a year.

“The cold is bad, but the wet is far worse,” he said.

“I’m constantly getting people calling me a junkie and you’re always sleeping with one eye open.

“You’re made to feel like you’re scum and nobody cares about you. It’s been very hard. I definitely wouldn’t like to catch Covid as my health is already in a bad way”.

Paddy praised the work of the volunteers who deliver him food in the night.

“They show us more thought than the Government,” he said.

Avril Darker has been volunteering with ICHH since the start of 2020.

She takes clothes orders from the homeless people she visits and delivers them the following week, along with other essential supplies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed ICHH’s framework and made things more challenging, but they are still determined to help those in need.

“We used to be able to do walkabouts but it got too dangerous and risky during lockdown so now we take the vans out and have had to limit the number of volunteers who can travel due to social distancing,” she said.

“It’s been a bit more tricky but we’re managing.”

Homeless deaths decreased from 65 in 2016 to 34 in 2019, but the number of homeless adults in Dublin increased by around 43pc during that time.

DRHE said figures up until the end of November show 57 homeless people died.

“Firstly, DRHE would like to offer its sympathies to the families, friends and support workers of the people who have tragically passed away while in homeless services in 2020,” a spokesperson told the Irish Independent.

“We are very aware of the pain caused by the death of a loved-one and we are also very aware of family sensitivities at this time.

“Many of the individuals who passed away were receiving support from a variety of DRHE/HSE-funded services but unfortunately homelessness is often complicated by medical or social factors.”

The pandemic has seen the overall number of homeless people decrease in recent months.

A total of 9,907 people were living in emergency accommodation in March, compared to 8,484 in November.

However, the figures come with a health warning as housing charities warn that the emergency bans on evictions and rent increases may have been a contributory factor in this, and fear numbers may rise again this year.

For those on Dublin’s streets, 2020 was a bleak year, with this year set to be equally as tough.

Met Éireann issued a nationwide weather warning as temperatures will plummet to –4C.

Dublin Independent councillor and co-founder of ICHH, Anthony Flynn said: “Our city is awash with tents. The seriousness of the situation keeps on being deflected by those who can and should enact change. This isn’t the Dublin I want to represent. How many more must die?”

The HSE and Department of Housing commissioned a review of homeless deaths following the spike last year following request from campaigners. It is expected to be published soon.


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