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Monday, February 21, 2011

Alone and Afraid

THE SLEEPERS

Alone and afraid they sleep. With their bodies shaking vigorously, their bodies numb, they toss and turn in the hope of gaining some warmth from their actions. Being homeless means a lot of depravation and hardships, many of which we as a society can prevent.

When you finish up in work this evening and return home, kiss your wife and see your kids spare a quick thought for those on the streets. We all take so much for granted, even the smallest of things like placing your feet in front of the fire whilst you eat a warm meal. But for many people in Dublin and the surrounding areas this is a dream, something which unfortunately eludes them time and time again.

In Dublin City alone there are an estimated 70 people without a bed tonight. In arctic conditions such as the ones we are currently facing, conditions in which someone could lose their life in.

It’s Friday night in Donnybrook village. A man who sits on the compacted ice with only a thin blanket and piece of cardboard gives me the sharpest look, a look which won’t be forgotten. This look made me feel his pain. We have spoken before as the man often comes into my workplace, guilt and sadness spreads like wildfire throughout my body. Complaining about the bus being delayed puts this person’s problem into context for me.

Whilst I give the man a coffee, I feel a little bit better, but not much. For me it is easy to return home to a warm house. But what will become of him? What will be the implications of him sleeping in this doorway tonight?

“I didn’t commit any crime or anything like that, just unlucky. I had a fight with my da one night when I was about 13 and the rest is history I suppose”.

We share a conversation as my bus hasn’t arrived yet and is delayed for some time. Plumes of smoke pass my face and my nose starts to run. The cold is nasty. It’s minus 7 and its only eight o clock. “I have slept everywhere in Dublin to be honest, as a mixture of laughter and chesty coughs emerge”.

The deprivation in this mans eyes was frightening, his eyes are reflective and filled with sadness for all to see. It is hard to imagine there are many more men and women in the exact same situation as Paul around the city tonight. “I would love to be able to start all over again, like to be able to go to college and wear nice clothes like, people think that I am doing this because I am lazy or something, I’m not.

“Man this is my last Christmas on the street I swear to god. Sometimes I can make a few quid begging and I would choose drink over smokes like because with the drink you can sleep a bit better. Getting a smoke of someone is handy enough as well, you might as well forget about getting a drink of them though”, he states as he manages another unhealthy chuckle.

The Department of the Environment estimates that in 2005, there were 2,399 homeless households in Ireland, with a further 9,212 households living in unfit accommodation, overcrowded accommodation or involuntarily sharing accommodation.
The Department of the Environment also estimated that 25,045 people were not reasonably able to meet the cost of their accommodation.In Dublin the number of homeless adults in March 2005 was 1,552 with 485 homeless dependents (22 of these dependents were over 18 years of age) across 1,361 households. 43 per cent reported being homeless for more than three years. There were 185 rough sleepers with the remainder staying in emergency or insecure accommodation. In this assessment there was a ratio of 2:1, men to women, among those who reported themselves as homeless. 46 per cent reported their age as between 26 and 39 years old. Single person households form the vast majority of those experiencing homelessness.

Philip is an alcoholic but has been in permanent accommodation for over two years now. “Ah its great having my own place around family and all, I still have a problem with drink which I’m trying to sort out at the moment. This drink racket isn’t easy, people think it is, but it’s worse than most addictions.

Philip was sleeping rough in Dublin city for over five years until a family member decided to help him clean himself up. “I talk to a lot of the lads I slept with on the streets, there all great people like, just unfortunate”.

“I travelled to Dublin a couple of days ago and seen a couple of people I knew. It’s so cold at the moment and I know what it can be like out there so I offered them a place to stay. The County Council wont be to happy if they find out, but I don’t care, I feel sorry for them and I know what they are going through, it’s a tough life out there on the streets and dangerous.”

There are many agencies which are available to a person experiencing homelessness such as Focus Ireland, The Simon Community and Merchants key. However with the upcoming budget these institutions and the work they do is under serious threat.
These agencies are pivotal in combating homelessness which is currently on the rise.

As a society especially at this time of the year, we should all make a special effort to help out the homeless. It doesn’t have to be large sums of money, or giving up all your time. All types of help is positive help, let it be big or small.

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