A death in a Dublin bin truck
The death of the homeless Polish man Henryk Piotrowski in a waste collection truck highlights the precarious lives of Ireland’s migrant homeless
Hard times: Henryk Piotrowski. Photograph: An Garda Síochána
Hard times: Josef Pavelka, the Czech who died in May 2012, with Peter Baram, a Pole, in the public toilet in Ennis, Co Clare, that served as their makeshift home. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Hard times: the funeral of Josef Pavelka at Drumcliff cemetery in Ennis. Photograph: Eamon Ward
It used to be easy enough to find Henryk Piotrowski. Even in the rough and tumble world of homelessness his days were carefully measured out in visits to agencies and drop-in centres across inner-city Dublin. Breakfasts tended to be at the Mendicity Institute, on a quiet street just off the south quays.
Later on he would head in the direction of Trust, a nearby drop-in centre, for a shower or a change of clothes. Lunch was often across the Liffey at the Capuchin Day Centre on Bow Street, which provides free dinners. Much of the rest of the day was spent in a blur of drinking with other Poles who had fallen on hard times.
“We saw him change a lot over the past two years,” says Alice Leahy, a founder of Trust, who helped to wash his feet a short time before he disappeared. “Like so many others he was often in an awful state. The light had gone out of his eyes . . . We dressed his feet, which were in a dreadful state, and he had a cup of tea and a shower. He went on his way and said thanks.”
Kris Jameczek, a formerly homeless Pole who is now an outreach worker, remembers hugging him not long before he disappeared. “We were just talking about life, about jobs, about cheering each other up. His home life was complicated,” he says. “I gave him a big hug. He was just a very friendly guy.”
In better timesPiotrowski had come to Ireland in search of a new life. There was plenty of work on the building sites. But when the bottom fell out of the economy the work vanished. His English was poor, and he had little or no money. On top of everything his family life was in disarray. His relationship with his wife had broken up, and he had lost contact with his daughters.
Support agencies say they made numerous attempts to persuade him to return. But going home, he said, simply wasn’t an option. The shame was too great. Drink was an escape from the misery.
Introspective and quiet
“He was almost permanently drunk . . . There were times when he detoxed. When he was sober he was miserable, introspective and quiet,” says Charles Richards, manager of the Mendicity Institute, one of Dublin’s oldest charities. “I remember saying to him, ‘Henryk, you’re going to die if you keep up this kind of heavy drinking.’ And he said, ‘Charles, I am already dead.’ ”
Last month he lost his bed in a homeless hostel – Frederick Hall – that had been set aside for homeless migrants. The facility had provided a stable bed for the previous year or more, although there were times when he didn’t use it at all. He, along with more than a dozen other migrants, was left to use an emergency phone number for accommodation to organise a bed on a nightly basis.
Then he disappeared. He was no longer to be found in any of the agencies or drop-in centres where he had become a familiar face. Just over a week ago came shocking news. He had been found crushed to death in a commercial waste pick-up truck. He had been sleeping in an industrial-sized bin in the south inner city.