herald

Monday 20 November 2017

'It can happen to anyone' - man sleeping in tent near 5-star hotel

John Keena is living in a small tent on a green near the Radisson Blu Hotel in Stillorgan
John Keena is living in a small tent on a green near the Radisson Blu Hotel in Stillorgan

A leaking tent pitched in front of one Dublin's most prestigious five-star hotels is the bleak home of a man who says he is too afraid to sleep in the city's emergency hostels.

John Keena (54) beds down under canvas every night on lands in front of the Radisson Blu St Helen's Hotel in Stillorgan.

He has been homeless for a year, but after months of moving from hostel to hostel, he says he is happier on his own where he can get some peace.

However, with winter approaching, John admits death is a possibility on a cold night.

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

Homeless man John Keena prefers living in a tent to staying in emergency shelters, where he says there is ‘no privacy
Homeless man John Keena prefers living in a tent to staying in emergency shelters, where he says there is ‘no privacy

John says the field where he sleeps is a home from home for him, as his father used to be a gardener and handyman in the historic building, built in 1775. It was a training school for Christian Brothers long before it became a plush hotel.

Damp

Waking up damp after overnight rains soaked through his tent, John told of how he ended up sleeping rough.

"Homelessness can happen to anybody," he said.

"I used to have a home and family, and worked in security, but that's all gone and I ended up in council accommodation in Dun Laoghaire," John added, gathering himself into a standing position after a night in the tent.

"There was a psychotic man living in the flat above me and he used to bang on the ceiling with a bat and shout all night long," he told the Herald.

"I couldn't take any more, so I put what I could into a rucksack and left around a year ago."

Pointing to the top of his one-man abode, John said: "I'm all damp. The rain was coming in and I had to plug a hole with a plastic bag."

John said he spent months in emergency shelters around Dublin city, but always felt afraid and never got sleep.

"There would be addicts and people who would steal things, and people who would shout through the night, and violent people too, and no privacy," he said.

"In the shelters you get a roof over your head, but you pay for it with your peace of mind.

"In the end I decided about a month ago to just try living out on my own somewhere.

"I grew up here. My father was a gardener here when the hotel building belonged to the Christian Brothers, and we lived in a mobile home over where the apartments are now," he added, pointing to the buildings to the right of the hotel.

"We used to run around these lands as children, playing football, and then we got a Frisbee, and we played at being Daniel Boone, it was great," John said, reminiscing with a smile.

John said he doesn't get hassled where he is.

A spokesperson for the Radisson said the land he is on is not owned by the hotel.

"The winter will be difficult out here, but I'll take one day at a time," he said.

"It's quiet here, but I have to stay aware. I feel vulnerable."

John has health difficulties and walks with a crutch, his right foot supported in a strap-on braced boot.

"I have osteomyelitis in that foot. The Simon Community come twice a week. They bring me food and dress my leg," John said.

"I don't draw attention to myself, and the people in the local shops and the garage are good to me. I go to houses for food and many people are kind when I explain the situation I'm in.

"Finding a place to wash can be difficult. Last night I shaved without water."

Unscrupulous

Asked about the growing homelessness crisis, John remarked about the three homeless people who had died last week in Dublin, Kildare and Cork, blessing himself as he did so.

Jack Watson died while sleeping rough on Dublin's Suffolk Street, while Tallaght mother-of-two Danielle Carroll took her own life in emergency accommodation in Leixlip.

A woman in her 30s, Jennifer Dennehy, also died while sleeping rough in Cork.

"The Government are unscrupulous, cold-hearted people," John said.

"There are families homeless now. I really feel sorry for them. This is a problem on a massive scale and there seems to be no end to it," he added.

'In the shelters you get a roof over your head, but you pay for it with your peace of mind'

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