herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Volunteers keep watch on stormy night as city's homeless suffer again

Laura Hutton, a volunteer with Inner City Helping Homeless, gives a couple some tea on Foley Street
Laura Hutton, a volunteer with Inner City Helping Homeless, gives a couple some tea on Foley Street
Volunteers Laura Hutton, Michelle O’Brien, Claire O’Reilly and Kevin Noonan head out with supplies for the night
Laura Hutton, Michelle O’Brien, Claire O’Reilly and Kevin Noonan head out with supplies and (inset) a volunteer prepares to head out on the streets

On December 4 last year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny joined a homeless charity on their nightly run to see the homeless crisis for himself. One year later and there is little evidence of improvement - and many claim it has only got worse.

As Storm Desmond raged across Dublin, the Herald walked the route a year to the day that the country's leader met with the city's rough sleepers - as people barricaded themselves behind makeshift cardboard forts in a desperate attempt to escape the howling wind and rain.

Inner City Helping Homeless, led by director Anthony Flynn and chairman Christy Burke provide food and clothing to those on city streets, and in laneways and doorways seven nights a week.

Staggering

They've been in operation for more than two years now. A staggering 129 rough sleepers were met by the volunteer organisation on Friday night - consisting of 83 men and 46 women.

Meanwhile, many others fled the city's streets to find shelter in abandoned and derelict buildings instead.

The organisation have between three and four volunteer groups each weeknight covering both sides of the River Liffey.

Preparation begins shortly after 10pm, with cooler boxes of cheese sandwiches, bags of crisps and bars, full to the brim.

The lap around the city starts at 11pm. Along with the food, volunteers carry hot-water containers - for tea, coffee, soup and pot noodles.

Team leaders also bring backpacks full with hats, scarves, gloves, socks, underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

If a rough sleeper needs a sleeping bag or a coat, their location is jotted down and the group's mobile van will be there for them that evening.

Some set themselves up under stalls on Mary Street, helping them to avoid trouble, but leaving them susceptible to the strongest of breezes - as nothing shelters them there.

However, this is nothing compared to those that brave the gale-force winds, sitting upright on the Ha'penny Bridge, as they risk freezing temperatures in order to make some money from passers-by.

One rough sleeper, who didn't wish to be named, told the Herald she has been homeless for three years, but gets to see her young daughter on weekends.

"It's very hard, I was hoping that, by now, I'd have a place to move in to - but it hasn't happened yet," she said. "I'm seven months clean off heroin, I don't take any drugs or drink. All I want is a place for myself, my child and my partner. She thinks I live in a fancy hotel waiting to get a new house."

The crisis has spread to even the most affluent areas of the capital. Only recently, the group got a call about two men out in Dun Laoghaire, when they went out there they couldn't spot the two original men - but came across another five.

Another group use Killiney beach as their nightly camp.

"There's a part of Killiney beach called The Cove, and there are six or seven that sleep there in tents every night, it's too dangerous and dark to go down there but we'll take their numbers, they'll tell us where they are and what they need," he said.

The group always make sure to get to their regulars, people who expect them now. These people will even know if the team are not on schedule - "you're late," one homeless man sleeping on a mattress pointed out jokingly.

Dream

Another street dweller told us: "Hopefully, there won't be a need for newspapers to go around with these charities next year - but if you do, hopefully I won't be here on the streets.

"That would be a dream come true, because I don't know what I'd do without them - and I'm not just saying that because they're here now," he added.

As the night's work comes to a close at around 1:30pm, the Herald is brought on a short journey that goes right past Custom House Quay and the Department of Environment.

Black gates surround the building, but this doesn't stop a mini-village of rough sleepers setting up camp, with sleeping bags and cardboard.

It's a stark sight, but they're moved on very early in the morning by gardai, we're told - long before Minister Alan Kelly arrives to work.

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