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
Kris Jameczek, the former homeless man turned outreach worker, is one of those who chose to return home to Poland. He had been working on building sites in London before he lost his job and found himself sleeping in a park. In all he spent six years on the street.
“There was so much expectation at home,” he says. “I felt like a failure. I could not go back to my family. But there was also freedom on the streets. I drank every day. There was nothing else to do. The longer I was on the street the more it felt like normality.”
It took years of gentle persuasion from the Barka team in London before he decided to go home. When he got back he joined a group-living scheme, received addiction counselling and found basic work.
“I’m trying to help others,” says Jameczek, who is now 58. “It can still be difficult. I hope my relations with my family improve. I’m an optimist. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Alice Leahy, the cofounder of Trust, says repatriation may be the answer for some. But for many the system’s reliance on paperwork and invasive questioning is a turn-off.
“In all the years we’ve been operating, the system hasn’t progressed all that much. It still lacks basic compassion and understanding of how the real world operates,” she says. “We’ve seen people who’ve been repatriated and then arrived back here months later . . . There are often unrealistic expectations, or a rush to push people into accommodation, without the right kind of support.”
Leahy says the fact that migrants are able to access only a single night’s accommodation is just adding to the sense of isolation among the most marginalised of our homeless population. “It’s not good enough to have to ring up every night for a bed,” she says. “There are just too many rules and regulations. It’s no surprise then that people won’t link in with services.”
There is no obvious best way of supporting migrants. Even those who provide homeless services are divided. There’s little doubt that Henryk Piotrowski posed complex challenges for homeless-support agencies. No shortage of help was available to him over the course of his life.
Groups such as the Mendicity Institute take grave issue with the notion that he or other migrants are being let down by the system. “We did everything we could to support him: food, medical care, counselling, accommodation options. But he was a chaotic alcoholic, and his family life was in disarray,” Richards says. “He was estranged from family. We contacted his brothers, but he wouldn’t engage with them. We located his daughters on Facebook. He could see they were healthy and surrounded by friends – but Henryk felt there was no way back to his family.”
Richards believes that Piotrowski was on the road to oblivion and that nothing was going to stop it. “Once, we had a passport, flight, he was off drink for two days, there were new clothes, he was all ready to go. He never turned up . . . I don’t think anything would have saved him.”