Dublin’s dark side New tour shines light on home­less­ness cri­sis

The Guardian - - WORLD - Rory Car­roll Ire­land cor­re­spon­dent

Dublin boasts a rich va­ri­ety of tours – lit­er­ary pub crawls, Guin­ness brew­ery tast­ings, Trin­ity Col­lege walk­a­bouts, splash­ing through the Lif­fey dressed as a Vik­ing – but the lat­est one has a bleak, con­tem­po­rary theme: home­less­ness.

A home­less­ness cri­sis in Ire­land’s cap­i­tal has prompted the launch of a walk­ing tour, given by a for­merly home­less guide, through an in­ner city of gritty streets and quiet des­per­a­tion tourists sel­dom see.

“We just don’t have the prop­er­ties for the peo­ple that are work­ing,” said Derek McGuire, while he led a re­cent Se­cret Street tour through the Lib­er­ties, a his­toric blue-col­lar neigh­bour­hood. “Home­less­ness could be­come so­cially ac­cept­able, be­come the norm.”

The route in­cludes ar­eas where McGuire, 52, slept rough for two years after los­ing his home in 2014 and passes five home­less hos­tels, with an­other six nearby. The tour lasts 90 min­utes and costs €10 (£9).

McGuire’s spiel in­cludes tips on stay­ing safe, stash­ing pos­ses­sions and blend­ing into crowds. He mixes anec­dotes about shel­ters – the de­cent, the aw­ful – with tales about broth­els, heroin epi­demics and the “four cor­ners of hell”, a junc­tion of four pubs no­to­ri­ous for fights. “Sleep­ing out in the city cen­tre, that was my worst night­mare. I had to put on my Bear Grylls head,” said McGuire. “It was about sur­vival.”

The tour, which started last month, is the lat­est ev­i­dence of a na­tion­wide hous­ing short­age that has in­flated rents, nudged the home­less pop­u­la­tion to­wards 10,000 and cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal back­lash. Thou­sands have marched through Dublin in re­cent months to de­mand rent con­trols and more low-cost hous­ing and to ac­cuse the gov­ern­ment of be­ing in the pocket of land­lords and de­vel­op­ers .

Ac­tivists have oc­cu­pied va­cant prop­er­ties, in some cases lead­ing to vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions with pri­vate se­cu­rity teams sent to evict them.

The evic­tion of a fam­ily in Roscom­mon last month trig­gered an es­pe­cially vir­u­lent re­tal­i­a­tion: about 20 masked vig­i­lantes with base­ball bats as­saulted the se­cu­rity guards and ar­son­ists fire­bombed two branches of KBC Bank, which had sent them to re­pos­sess the home.

‘Sleep­ing out in the city cen­tre, that was my worst night­mare. I had to put on my Bear Grylls head’ Derek McGuire Tour guide

A tour run by home­less peo­ple in Vi­enna had in­spired Tom Austin, a Trin­ity Col­lege grad­u­ate stu­dent, to bring the idea to Dublin. With his co-founders, Pierce Dar­gan and Gareth Downey, he ob­tained sup­port from the home­less char­ity the Dublin Si­mon Com­mu­nity, and re­cruited McGuire to be the first guide, with hope the scheme will ex­pand to other parts of the cap­i­tal.

McGuire, who spent 25 years work­ing in the vol­un­tary sec­tor, had be­come home­less after a re­la­tion­ship ended and a prop­erty crash left him un­able to pay his mort­gage. In early 2014, he packed a bag and headed to the air­port – and stayed there for three weeks, pos­ing as a trav­eller and snaf­fling restau­rant left­overs. It was safe but de­mor­al­is­ing. “My spirit was bro­ken.”

McGuire re­turned to the city and slept rough, re­fus­ing to seek as­sis­tance. “I had far too much pride. I’d sooner starve than ask peo­ple for money.” He was ragged by the time Mer­chants Quay Ire­land, a home­less char­ity, of­fered him the tem­po­rary, shared ac­com­mo­da­tion he now calls home.

Guid­ing has re­stored McGuire’s sense of iden­tity. “I see this as an op­por­tu­nity to tell my story.”

He ex­pects home­less­ness to con­tinue ris­ing. Too few new homes are be­ing built across Ire­land.

And a tech-fu­elled boom is bring­ing hip­ster cafes and other signs of rent-fu­elling gen­tri­fi­ca­tion to the Lib­er­ties, which is within walk­ing dis­tance of Face­book and Google of­fices.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: RORY CAR­ROLL/GUARDIAN

Derek McGuire, cen­tre, has a story to tell on his tour of the Lib­er­ties area

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