Homeless people want greater recognition of their humanity

Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 00:00

In a Sherrard Street drop-in centre Fr Peter McVerry talks about the difficulties of homelessness in Dublin. “People come to the city centre because there’s a bit of life there,” he says. “Out in the suburbs they’re anonymous, it’s boring and they’re not welcome. So the city centre becomes a magnet for homeless people.”

Gerard Bowes, formerly a homeless man, explains life on the streets. “You might go to Merchants Quay to get a cup of tea and a bit of breakfast. Then later you might go to Focus Ireland where you can get a complete meal and a pot of tea. The rest of the time you’re just hanging around.”

Those gathered in the smoking area of the McVerry Trust’s drop-in centre would prefer if the services they needed were available in their local areas.

Desmond Kane lives in a hostel off Gardiner Street. “I Sellotape books around my chest like I did in prison,” he says. “Because I don’t want to be stabbed . . . If you keep everyone in their own area it’s going to cut down the problems.”

The city centre is where most shelters, food kitchens and drug-treatment centres are. “Many of the best services for drug addiction and homelessness have been run by Dublin City Council,” says Fr McVerry.

“Services should be more dispersed but in some areas there’s huge local opposition. Fingal County Council and South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown have had a very poor record of providing services for homeless people. So those people come into the Dublin City Council area.”

Nowhere to go

Homeless people would like more places to go by day, understanding from gardaí and recognition of their humanity. They’re aware the Boardwalk, Marlborough Street and Abbey Street are renowned for drug-dealing and drunkenness, but have nowhere else to go.

“People complain about homeless people and drug use being very visible in the inner city,” says Fr McVerry. “And they’re right to complain. But instead of complaining about the people, they should complain that services are failing to address their needs. We should be eliminating homelessness, not just moving it around.”