FRONT­LINES…

With Ire­land in the grips of a home­less cri­sis, Stephen Porzio, with the help of the Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity, speaks to in­di­vid­u­als who are sleep­ing in tents in the cen­tre of Dublin. These are their true sto­ries. Pho­tog­ra­phy: Zoe Keat­ing and Miguel Ruiz

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With Ire­land in the grips of a home­less cri­sis, Stephen Porzio, with the help of the Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity, hears the sto­ries of those sleep­ing in tents in Dublin city cen­tre. In ad­di­tion, Hot Press counts down to the launch of this year’s Global Drugs Sur­vey.

“Many of the in­di­vid­u­als we work with have ex­pe­ri­enced trauma in their life,” says Daire Mo­ri­arty, sup­port worker for Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity’s Rough Sleeper Team, a group of seven peo­ple on the streets 365 days a year pro­vid­ing sup­port to peo­ple who are home­less. “If they don’t get the sup­port they need, it can have a neg­a­tive im­pact on their men­tal health. Be­ing on the streets re­ally ex­ac­er­bates that.” Daire in­tro­duces Hot Press to some of the in­di­vid­uas with whom Si­mon works. Here are their bru­tally heart-break­ing sto­ries...

GERRY, 61.

“My wife com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter 20 years of mar­riage. I came in one night and she was hang­ing. I cut her down,” says Gerry, de­scrib­ing the event which led to him camp­ing in Dublin. “My head went all over the place. I had just lost ev­ery­thing that I had ever wanted.”

The for­mer psy­chol­o­gist prefers to stay in a tent than in hos­tels. “I don’t want to be sit­ting around peo­ple tak­ing crack,” he says, “and in­ject­ing things in their arms. I’m not in­ter­ested in that.”

Now home­less for two years, at first he found camp­ing rel­a­tively quiet.

“I got to know peo­ple,” he re­calls. “We had our tents set up and for over a year we never had prob­lems. We didn’t cause trou­ble to any­body.”

How­ever, as win­ter bit hard last year, Gerry lost toes due to frost­bite.

“As I was sleep­ing, I left my foot stick­ing out,” he re­counts. “Some peo­ple came along and stole my shoes. It was lash­ing rain. I had to walk to Pen­neys to buy a new pair of train­ers. In that time and with the cold in the night, I lost five toes.”

The wave of at­tacks on those sleep­ing rough has made life even harder for Gerry.

“There was a man two nights ago. At 4:30am, six peo­ple pulled him out of his tent. They kicked the ribs out of him and took ev­ery penny and his phone off him. They left him half dead. An­other man’s tent then got set on fire.”

Gerry says the Gar­dai are not in­ter­ested in crimes against the home­less.

“The po­lice do not want to know,” he ac­cuses. “We are their en­emy and there’s noth­ing to do dur­ing the day. You’re not al­lowed to sit in a park or on a bench. In other words, just walk around all day long. How can I with my foot?”

Gerry is fright­ened now that win­ter is upon us.

“I’m go­ing to lose my leg if this keeps go­ing. I’m lucky though. I’m 61. I’ll be dead next year. The young guys – they’ve got 20 to 30 years of this in front of them.”

DAR­REN (36), CHRISTO­PHER (30)

Dar­ren has been home­less eight years and Christo­pher for five. Cous­ing who live rough to­gether, both had been in re­la­tion­ships that broke down.

Like Gerry, they both feel there is a lack of re­spect for the home­less on the art of the au­thor­i­ties.

“We’d been camp­ing in the Phoenix Park,” says Christo­pher. “Our tent was taken up by the Gar­dai. Our clothes, our be­long­ings – ev­ery­thing we had was in the tent. We left a note for them not to take our stuff.” .

“They only gave us 24-hours no­tice,” Dar­ren adds. “We told them we needed more time to find a spot to put our tent. We went back and it was gone. We had to start all over again.”

Pre­fer­ring not to dis­close where they are cur­rently based, Christo­pher says they still face trou­ble from the Gar­dai.

“The guards are not nice peo­ple,” he states. “They are our en­emy.

Where we have our tent based now is just a for­est. The last time I came out, three of them rugby tack­led me to the ground and ar­rested me. I took a fit in the back of their car with my hands be­hind me in cuffs. They should have taken me to the hospi­tal. They didn’t. That’s not right. They just think we are an­i­mals.”

Christo­pher has be­gun suf­fer­ing reg­u­lar seizures. “I’ve been to hospi­tal. They don’t know what’s wrong. They think it’s the con­di­tions I’m liv­ing in. Be­ing in the cold, run down and not eat­ing prop­erly. Ba­si­cally just wast­ing away.”

The cousins are on var­i­ous wait­ing lists for houses. How­ever, Project Worker for the Rough Sleeper Team, Roisin Casey says: “It’s hard to get two friends into ac­com­mo­da­tion. You can’t reg­is­ter them as a cou­ple but they don’t want to sep­a­rate.”

“If I didn’t have Dar­ren,” says Christo­pher, “I’d have done some­thing stupid. It’s good to have each other. He looks af­ter me, I look af­ter him. We help each other out. At least I have some­body who I can rely on and keep me happy. It’s very de­press­ing liv­ing like this.”

PA­TRICK (21)

“I’m out there look­ing for jobs,” says Pa­trick, who has been home­less since he was 17. At the age of three, he was taken from his par­ents who couldn’t look af­ter him due to ad­dic­tion prob­lems and put into care.

“Last week, I went down to the Navy. Even though I’m home­less and I don’t have the money to get a ho­tel, I stayed overnight in Cork City Cen­tre just ram­bling around. I got two hours sleep. I did a fit­ness test and an in­ter­view on the Naval base. Then, I got the bus back up here. I’m still look­ing for jobs.”

Pa­trick also prefers to camp than to stay in hos­tels.

“If you could see in­side hos­tels, they’d all be shut down,” he ar­gues. “The toi­lets and show­ers are hor­ren­dous. I’d rather pay a gym mem­ber­ship to use their fa­cil­i­ties.”

Ac­cord­ing to the 21-year-old, the hours im­posed by hos­tels can make wor­ing im­pos­si­ble. “I was work­ing in a bin truck while I was stay­ing at a hos­tel,” he re­calls. “I didn’t fin­ish un­til 3am and I used to have to ring at 10pm and say I won’t be in un­til the early hours of the morn­ing. Then, you are up and out by 8am. Those 12-hour shifts catch up on you. It’s very hard.”

Like Christo­pher and Dar­ren, Pa­trick lost many of his pos­ses­sions af­ter his tent was taken. “I was col­lect­ing my money from the post of­fice. I re­turn, and my tent is in the back of a county coun­cil truck. Now, I have a week bed in a one-man room in a hos­tel. Af­ter that I’ll be mov­ing into a three­man room. If the other lads are de­cent and they don’t drink or take heavy drugs, I’ll stay. But I’d say there’s a 90 per cent chance I’ll be back on the streets in a week.”

Pa­trick has as­pi­ra­tions: “I have my goals. I’ve done first aid for eight years of my life. I want to be a para­medic.”

Cur­rently though he says he spends most of his days in the book­ies for warmth, ag­gra­vat­ing his feel­ings of de­pres­sion.

“I would like some­where where I could sit down, maybe watch TV,” says Gerry. “Look around the city at the empty spa­ces. They won’t sell the land be­cause they want them for ho­tels.”

“There’s not one pub­lic toi­let in Dublin,” Dar­ren adds.

“Ev­ery day is sad,” Gerry says. “You wake up, you’re sad. You go to bed, you are sad. You’ve done noth­ing. You’ve achieved noth­ing. There’s noth­ing there to make you feel bet­ter about your­self.”

“I DON’T WANT TO BE SIT­TING AROUND PEO­PLE TAK­ING CRACK AND IN­JECT­ING THINGS IN THEIR ARMS. I’M NOT

IN­TER­ESTED IN THAT.”

A tent burned by van­dals

Gerry

Pa­trick

Dar­ren and Christo­pher

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