Pregnant and homeless: ‘We want a place where we won’t get set on fire’

Homeless couple Mark and Caroline – who is pregnant – sleep in a tent along the Luas line

There are eight tents scattered between the trees along the long, narrow St James's Walk park that hugs the Luas Red Line between Suir Bridge and Rialto Bridge in Dublin 8.

One of them is home to Mark and Caroline, both aged 28.

Mark, who comes originally from Clondalkin, says he has been homeless since aged 12 or 13. His life went off the rails when an adult took an improper interest in him.

For much of his life since, he has had addiction issues and takes cannabis.

Despite all that, he and Caroline, who is from Ballyfermot, are a loving couple and have been together for about 10 years.

Caroline is three months pregnant with her sixth child.

At one stage, Mark and Caroline had a house in Tallaght, Co Dublin. But there were complaints, numbering in the hundreds, says Caroline, about drunkenness in the garden.

I go paralysed from the waist down from time to time

“But it wasn’t us,” she says, adding that, in general terms, they had not been made welcome because they were “not from the area”.

For some two years, they have been in and out of hostels for the homeless, or have been sleeping rough. Last Christmas, Mark spent the day in a church in Inchicore.

More recently, they have found refuge by the Luas line and, three days ago, some people trying to help the homeless gave them the flimsy orange tent in which they now sleep at St James's Walk park.

Halloween rocket

On Monday morning, someone fired a Halloween rocket, which landed at the back of the tent, setting it on fire.

“I heard a bit of noise,” says Mark, “and as I was lying back down to go back to sleep, [Caroline] noticed there was a fire.”

The back of the tent has several holes, close to where it touches the ground, and the inner tent sheet is also burnt but, that damage aside and in the current weather, it remains habitable – if very, very far from being an ideal place to live, especially for a woman in Caroline’s condition.

“I have a chronic degenerative disease in my spine,” she says. “I go paralysed from the waist down from time to time.”

The condition, recently diagnosed, relates to problems with the discs in her vertebrae. A fortnight ago, she was examined by doctors. Only then did she learn that she was pregnant.

Alan Finn from Rialto started an outreach operation about two months ago, which he calls On the Ground. He works with Wes Hanratty – the man who gave Mark and Caroline the tent, given to him in turn by a donor – checking on rough sleepers, handing out food every other night.

“It’s wrong,” Hanratty says of the situation we are looking at along the Luas line park. “It really is wrong. They – the Government – need to find places for the homeless. There’s plenty of empty buildings in town that could be turned into more hostels.”

Finn agrees. Much of the problem, he says, is caused by people being churned in and out of temporary accommodation – a few nights in a hostel, and then back into doorways or tents, until their circumstance worsens, or a bed becomes available, and they are back into a hostel for another few nights.

Senior employee

Council officials dealing with homeless and a senior employee of Luas have been to the area and spoken to those living there.

Finn says Cllr Pat Dunne of Dublin City Council, and local activist Damien Farrell, who were present on Monday at St James's park, also help – with individual cases and also by campaigning more widely on homeless issues – but short- term solutions are no solution, he argues.

“We want the people here to gets beds and a home,” says Finn. “We don’t want to be coming here every night. It affects me; it plays in your head. If it didn’t affect you, you’d have a heart of marble.”

I want to be an addiction counsellor. I seen my Dad strung out over heroin. He was done for manslaughter. He took his own life

As a couple, Mark and Caroline get €327 a week, about €70 less, says Finn, than they would have got had they registered with the authorities as single individuals rather than as a couple. It’s not enough to pay for accommodation and give them food.

Marksays he wants to look after Caroline and he has ambitions for himself. He has slept in dog kennels, sheds, parks, people’s couches and burnt-out cars but he knows there is more to life.

“If I was in a couples’ place, somewhere we didn’t have to worry if we were going to be set on fire or have bricks thrown . . .” he says, not finishing the thought.

“I want to be an addiction counsellor. I seen my Dad strung out over heroin. He was done for manslaughter. He took his own life,” says Mark, adding that he also tried to kill himself once.

He was anxious facing into Monday night.

“I won’t be able to sleep after what’s happened.”

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