Republican News · Thursday 21 December 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Catch 22

Declan keeps his eye out for the Gardaí, while Jason crouches in the middle of the Ha'penny Bridge, begging. They're both in their early 20s.

Behind Jason's huddled figure lies the majesty of one of Dublin's latest attraction - a riverside walk elongated off the Liffey walls.

``35 million, that cost,'' Jason says, knowledgably, ``and we're still left homelesss. There's so many out on the streets - and we have to walk miles to find somewhere that's safe to sleep. Ninety per cent of the time you're going to get robbed, then the peelers kick you and tell you to get up. They tell you you're a scumbag.''

Jason has spent four years on the streets, since he left Belfast. He says that getting off the streets is not merely a matter of finding work. ``People walk by and say `go and get a job', but you can't. You can't work and live on the streets and live a normal life. If you haven't got somewhere to stay, you can't get a job and if you haven't got a job you can't get somewhere to stay.''

Declan, who says he left home because he didn't get on with his mother's husband, adds that they tried squatting in a vacant house in Islandbridge but were soon evicted. They now stay in a hostel in the city centre, but even that accommodation is only available during the winter months. It shuts down in Febuary.

They say the hostel isn't, for them, a hostile place and that as long as they've got companionship with other homeless people, depression doesn't affect them. While they don't take drugs, apart from alcohol and hash, they claim there are only three spoons left in the hostel, which caters for 80 people. ``The junkies come in and take them,'' Declan explains.

Evicted by the authorities

``It's ridiculous - the government need to be got rid of,'' says a young man, his girlfriend by his side, holding a plastic cup. They don't give their names.

``I can't even get the dole because I've no fixed abode. Then they ask you for a load of documentation - you need money to get your birth cert and that sort of thing and we haven't get it.''

Neither of them can get hostel accommodation. They claim they would need to have a baby, or to be expecting one.

He has been homeless for six months. He's from Dundalk and claims he was made homeless by the local county council when his mother died.

``The council took the house away, they wouldn't pass it on. `If you don't leave you go to court,' they said.''

He says life on the streets is especially hard for his girlfriend - or any young woman - for that matter. Getting prescriptions and medicine if she's sick is a particular hassle. He says that, though he's heard a lot about them, the first time he saw a soup run for the homeless was the previous Sunday night.

They have experienced Garda harassment as well. ``The police are always moving you along - you can't even get a sit down. Then they call you names. Last night they called me a tramp and said we looked suspicious. When I asked him why, he said `cause you're scruffy'. `Give me any lip', he says, `and I'll arrest you'.

``I was arrested not long ago - because I was sitting down. They took me into the station and threw a small blue mattress over my head. They do that so you won't bruise. They just beat me and then when I started to fall asleep they just threw bottles of water over my head.''

This has been the worst Christmas ever in his life, he says. ``If I got somewhere to live, that'd be Christmas.''

Troubles everywhere

Francis Tobin, aka Francis Daniels, used to be a DJ, but now he's homeless. Marital breakdown precipitated his move to the streets. He's begging on the corner of North Earl Street.

``She's doing well now, but I'm not,'' he laments. ``My girlfriend at the moment, her sister was stabbed to death in England two weeks ago. You see, you've troubles everywhere. She stayed in the tent tonight (they live in a tent off the North Circular Road), but we have no money, so I had to go tappin'.''

Francis has also tried to find local authority accommodation. ``I tried the Corpo, but they won't give me anywhere. I used to live in a flat in Dominick Street with my grandfather. But they say they won't give me anywhere because they say `you weren't paying rent'. That's not true. I had to pay the rent, my granfather was there. But he died and I had to leave.''

Francis has been on the streets for four months. He has one word to describe how his Christmas is going to be for him this year, ``terrible''. And how does he see the future? ``Terrible''.

``I used to be a DJ,'' he says again.

He was only ever attacked once during his four months sleeping rough. ``I just got a few digs,'' he says. He and his girlfriend, he says, returning to a by now recurrent theme, ``hate the Gardaí. They treat you like crap. We're always getting harrassed by them. The other day they came up to us. I have a dog. They kicked him and threw him onto the road and then took me into the van.''

``What for?'' I ask.

``For tappin''' he laughs.

The drink

Paul and Frank are frozen as they beg in an entrance off Parnell Street.

Frank has been homeless five years ``through the drink'', and is noticeably the first drug-addicted person we've met.

He had been in a hostel, but he left it. ``I feel safer on the streets,'' he says. ``Anyway, they won't let you in with a few drinks on you. There's no care for people with addictions.''

A quiet-spoken, gentle man, he has never tried to seek help in dealing with his alcoholism. He also suffers from depression.

Paul seems agitated. He hasn't been listening and is innately suspicious of anyone taking notes. Frank explains, ``he's from the papers''. Paul acquiesces, but there'll be no pictures.

Frank says a minority of the Gardaí are systematically abusive towards them. ``We get a lot of hassle from some of them. 90 per cent of them are alright, but you just get some who tell you to get up - and you mightn't even get a chance to get up - and then they just start kicking you.''

Paul interjects: ``Something else you can put in your paper - they won't serve us in the pubs, because we're itinerants. We're doing nobody any harm, we just want to enjoy ourselves. Why are they refusing us, it's just discrimination.''

How to help

The Simon Community of Ireland is a 26-County voluntary organisation that works to provide shelter and care for the homeless. In the Six Counties, the Simon Community works, for the most part, separately, due to differing conditions with regard to homelessness. There are a number of ways in which people can assist in their work.

  • Donate directly:

If you want to donate to the Simon Community of Ireland central funds, contact their National Office at St Andrew's House, 28-30 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2 or, if you would prefer to donate locally, they have offices in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Dundalk.

Contributors can also donate to the Six-County Simon Community at Belfast Central Office, 57 Fitzroy Ave, off the Ormeau Road, Belfast; Phone: (90 232882)

  • Other donations

You can also donate blankets, non perishable food and clothing to your local Simon Community office. Simon in the Six Counties doesn't normally encourage the donation of blankets etc., due to different operational techniques.

  • Volunteering

You can volunteer on a part-time or full-time basis with the Simon Community in the 26 Counties. Full-time volunteers receive food, accommodation and a weekly allowance. If you are interested, call (01) 6711606.

  • Christmas Dinners

Christmas dinners will be provided in Simon Community shelters around the country on Christmas Day. They are open to anyone who may be sleeping rough and voluntary helpers may also be required. Phone (01) 6711606 for further details.

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