Charities take special measures to help homeless survive freezing temperatures

Man in critical condition after being found ‘very cold’ at bus shelter on Friday morning

Focus Ireland will open its Dublin city centre coffee shop 24 hours a day until the middle of next week amid concerns some who need emergency beds will be unable to, or will not, access them.

The move comes as Dublin Region Homeless Executive confirmed one man, who accessed emergency accommodation nightly, had fallen ill at a bus shelter on Thursday night and remained in hospital in a critical condition on Friday. He had been found “very cold” by a member of the public early on Friday morning and emergency services were called, a spokeswoman said.

With night-time temperatures expected to fall as low as minus 2 over the weekend the executive has provided additional beds for single adults across its system of shelters, on top of about 3,700 already in place.

Senior officials were confident no person who needed a bed would be left without access to one. However, given that not everyone entitled to an emergency bed takes one, and some who need a bed might not be immediately entitled to one, it was decided a “place of safety and warmth”, should be provided also, said a spokeswoman.


Through Thursday and Friday, she said, Dublin Simon and Peter McVerry Trust outreach teams were visiting all spots where people were known to sleep rough. This would continue through the weekend, she said.

“We are hitting those spots over and over. We have enough beds to get through the weekend and through the cold weather. Focus Ireland is opening its coffee shop through the night so, if after everything else closes, say at 1am and someone has not taken up a bed, we will be able to tell everyone, ‘If you change your mind late at night go to the coffee shop’, where there will be food, hot drinks and warmth.”

Mike Allen, Focus Ireland’s director of advocacy with Focus Ireland, said the facility would open through the night “for people who have nowhere else to go”. It was difficult to know how busy it would be, he continued, but he anticipated there would be need among, for example, asylum seekers who could not access direct provision centres or newly homeless people from outside the European Economic Area.

On Friday morning the Mendicity Institution, which works mainly with homeless people from eastern Europe and increasingly from outside Europe, was supporting a Brazilian national who was newly homeless and could not access homeless accommodation. In his 20s, the student told The Irish Times he had been sleeping rough for a week including on Thursday night.

The Peter McVerry Trust is providing the bulk of additional emergency beds. It has put 35 in place and had a further 66 on standby across Dublin, Kildare and Meath, said a spokesman.

DePaul has made a further 12 extra beds available. Neither charity had to use all additional beds by Friday, though expected they would fill over the weekend as the network reached capacity.

At its Mount Brown shelter in Dublin 8, which has 28 beds for single men, women and for couples, several long-term residents who had experienced sleeping out in severely cold conditions described the emotional impact of not being able to escape extreme cold.

Ger Kenny (36), who will spend her second Christmas at the DePaul centre, slept for several weeks with her partner in a tent around the Four Courts. They had “a lot of problems” accessing emergency accommodation as a couple. “It was cold and was during the time when about three people died in tents.

“When it’s that cold it’s emotionally and mentally very hard. When you can’t get away from that you get to the stage where you think there is no hope, no help. We could have gone into separate men’s and women’s hostels, but we didn’t want to go that road.”

Joanne McCran (36) and her partner have been here 18 months. They had to leave their cabin, at the bottom of a family member’s garden in Ballyfermot when the owner of the house died.

“We were sleeping in a van. We did that for a few weeks. It was two winters ago. It was snowing. We are terrified of losing our beds [in the hostel]. Oh my God if we ended up back on the streets I don’t think I’d survive.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times