Internet cafes prove an unlikely refuge for city's homeless


HOMELESS PEOPLE in Dublin are sleeping overnight in internet cafes, as the increasing number of rough sleepers sees demand for emergency accommodation outstrip supply.

A joint rough-sleeper outreach team, operated by Dublin Simon and Focus Ireland, says the numbers sleeping in chairs at computer terminals, rather than in hostels, are “small, but growing, and significant”.

A preliminary count that took place in the capital earlier this month found that 87 people were sleeping rough, up 45 per cent from 60 found in the last count in April of this year.

“As the numbers of people sleeping rough increases and hostels are full, people are choosing to use internet cafes for the security they provide and also for the heat, particularly coming into winter,” says Catherine Kenny, head of housing services with Dublin Simon Community.

Two 24-hour internet cafes in Dublin’s city centre are being used by the homeless.

The Five Star Internet Cafe on Talbot Street, charges €10 per night to sit at a computer. A poster in its window advertises it as being “cheaper than a hostel”.

In the Net House internet cafe on Wellington Quay, there were nine men asleep in chairs at 6.30 on one morning this week. It costs €6 to use a computer overnight.

Three men were awake and using the computers while nine slept – variously slouched back in their seat, leaning against the wall, or with their heads on their arms resting on the keyboards.

“That man is known to us,” says Paul Magee, project worker with Dublin Simon, gesturing towards a slightly overweight man in his early 30s with black hair who was sitting back in the wooden chair, his head lying over the back of the chair. “He’s Irish. He links in with us about once a week.”

He also pointed out a black man, in his 40s, with a beard, wearing a heavy green overcoat and woollen hat, who was asleep leaning against a pillar.

“There’s a few reasons why people would go into an internet cafe rather than a hostel,” says Anthony Bagenall, of Focus Ireland. “Some just can’t get into emergency accommodation . . .

“Some just don’t want to go into hostels, which can be quite chaotic. Also there are some constraints with hostels – you have to be in by a certain time and out by a certain time. So there is more freedom with an internet cafe. No one is asking you your name or how long you’ve been sleeping rough.”

Unlike the streets, the cafes are warm, have toilets and sell tea and coffee. “It’s not ideal sleeping in a chair,” says Mr Bagenall.

“Also, if anything went wrong with the people sleeping here, if they got ill or passed out, the guy behind the desk wouldn’t be trained in health and safety.”

The young Asian man in charge at the Five-Star cafe yesterday said business was “OK, good”.

Focus Ireland director of services Catherine Maher, said move-on accommodation was vital to reducing the numbers of homeless who are stuck in emergency accommodation.

“At the moment our services are coping but under pressure. The failure to end rough sleeping and long-term homelessness is directly linked to the continued failure of the Government to provide homes for the very people who are most in need. “