No festive cheer for street homeless


Martin (39), from Athy, Co Kildare, used to be "the greatest carpenter in Ireland".

Wednesday night found him sitting on the pavement of Wicklow Street, in Dublin, asking passers-by if they might "spare some change".

"I've been homeless for 3 1/2 years, love. Left the missus when I came home one night and caught her with another man," he says. Stocky though tall, he has what some might describe as a sweet face, with large eyes and an almost constant smile. Wearing a black wool hat and with a damp, orange blanket across his lap, Martin says he is a Traveller.

"I came to Dublin and went to the Simon Community. They give you a bit of food but they weren't able to get me anywhere to sleep. So I sleep in doorways," he says, gesturing towards a boutique opposite.

"If I go to a hostel, if you're a Traveller, they say you're a troublemaker, so there's no point. "You can't explain loneliness. When you're out and you lie down you get thinking, `Did I do wrong?' When you've lost the love of your life it cries in you and you cry yourself."

Martin says he has eight children but doesn't want to see them because of "pride". Asked their names, he says he does not want to discuss it any further.

Martin gets up each day about 6 a.m. when the people "come and clean the doors", and during the day he "walks and sleeps". He hardly drinks, he says.

"Ah, I have a few bottles now and again. If I can get £20 a day I am happy. The shops don't let homeless in so I get people to get me food. I get a wash in showers in the swimming baths and shaving once a week is enough for me."

Martin asks: "Why does the Government not do something for us? Just building, building, building. Who are the buildings for?"

Outside the pedestrian entrance to the College of Surgeons car-park in Mercer Street sits Patrick (32) from Newry, Co Down. A thin sheet covers knees on which he rests a polystyrene cup decorated with holly and red berries.

Staring blankly ahead he tells how he came to Dublin nine years ago because he "wasn't getting on with the rest of the family". Patrick has been homeless for three years because of "drugs". "When I came here I got set up in the first week with work and a place to live."

Slim and with short blond hair, his accent is a mix of Dublin and Northern Irish. "A bloke . . . got me on to heroin about six years ago. I was smoking it for two or three years and then started using the needles."

Pulling up his sleeves, Patrick shows the bruised and scarred skin on the underside of his forearms. He points out needle-prick marks on the tops of his hands. He lost his job as a result of the drugs and also lost several flats. Patrick left his girlfriend and three children - Jane, Jennifer (both 4) and Stephen (7) - because, he says: "I knew it wouldn't work because I was on drugs." He misses them.

For the past week he has been staying in a squat in Harcourt Street. It has "two single mattresses, a table and two chairs and is smelly". Before that, home was a car-park near Baggot Street.

Asked whether he would like to get off heroin, Patrick says he has undergone six detoxes, four of them in Mountjoy Prison. "The intention is to stay off them, but you go back after about two days. You get back with the same crowd. I can't get on a detox at the moment because I haven't got an address."

The majority of drug treatment clinics in Dublin will not treat homeless addicts.

Patrick says he goes "capping" (begging) during the day to get money for the drugs and food. His food is from chippers and the heroin from a dealer he phones and arranges to meet. His last "turn-on" was 20 minutes ago, injected in the squat.

While we talk he rolls up one leg of his trousers, revealing shins bruised up and down. "They got the hammers to me about a week ago. Drug-dealers. They said I had ripped them off £400."

Patrick won't go back to Newry. "There's nothing in Newry. I'd like a decent gaff. If I could get a decent gaff I'd be able to get a detox and see my kids."

Series concluded