herald

Tuesday 18 December 2018

'I'm overwhelmed' - man who slept in a tent turns life around

John Keena with detox project worker Ciara Geoghegan
John Keena with detox project worker Ciara Geoghegan

Three months ago John Keena was homeless and hoping he would die, but now his life has been transformed thanks to the help of the Dublin Simon Community.

Back in September, the Herald interviewed John (54) as he stood, drenched, on land in front of the Radisson Blu Hotel, at St Helen's, in Stillorgan.

His home wasn't a five-star room there, but a leaking one-man tent.

With winter approaching, John admitted that death was a possibility on a cold night.

"I hope I die. I'll be much happier wherever I'm going," he said at the time.

But John's story caused a reaction from readers that led to new opportunities.

People came with food and supplies, all of which were gratefully received. But his story also put him on a path to the Simon Residential Detox Centre, on Watling Street in the city, and it was there that John's nightmare ended.

Sitting in the warm dining room, he is a different man from the one we met in September.

"I am overwhelmed by the people here. They are kind, compassionate and understanding all the time," he said.

"I'm back on the straight and narrow, and hopefully soon I will have a place to live and I might get back to work again. That's what I hope for,."

The alcohol detoxification programme that John participated in is a medically supervised one that takes about three weeks.

Seizures

"From a physical point of view alcohol is the most difficult substance to detox from, and there is a risk of seizures and heart issues," said Simon's head of treatment and enterprise, Majella Darcy.

"We can get people who drink high volumes of bad alcohol, and we have nurses who monitor the detox process. We provide a non-judgemental system where people have a feeling of safety and care," she added.

"We also supply counselling, and everyone has a key worker assigned to them.

"This is a residential unit, but we don't isolate our clients totally from society while they are being treated, because if we did then it would be too big a shock when they go back out into the world.

"Instead, we allow people to go out while they are here, and the advice is that if they feel a temptation to drink, or if they sense they are going to be triggered by something or someone, then they can come straight back in the door and talk with their key worker. We manage it that way."

John said the detox was not difficult.

"For me it was not hard. People should not fear it. It is up to the individual of course, but I wanted stability," he said.

"I wanted my life back. I wanted to get away from homelessness. I don't want to relapse.

"Every day is a step forward towards independent living."

Asked about how addiction and homelessness are linked with each other, John didn't have to think for a second before answering.

Addiction

"If you don't do drink or drugs, you will when you are homeless," he said. "Homelessness and addiction just compound all your problems."

With temperatures falling below zero, and an orange warning from Met Eireann for snow, John was quick to think of those on the streets at the moment.

"I feel sorry for those out in it," he said.

"The Government don't care, in my view. If there were more places like this centre there would be less people homeless."

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