Eating out in Dublin – the homeless way
Growing number of children regularly get evening meals from free-food stalls in city
Cristina Moczek, her husband Constantin Neacsu and their son Emmanuel (2) with food from Feed Our Homeless at College Green, Dublin. Photograph: Damien Eagers
Emmanuel Neascu (2) is one of a growing number of Dublin children regularly getting their evening meal from free-food stalls in the city centre.
Sunday night finds him at College Green with his parents Cristina and Constantin, where Feed Our Homeless is serving chicken curry and rice, sausages and mash potato, as well as soup, tea, coffee, biscuits and bottled water to anyone who needs it.
Originally from Romania and in Ireland for two years, the family shares a house with 10 other people, paying €900 a month for one room. Constantin works as a kitchen porter, earning about €1,800 a month.
“For eat we come here sometimes to save some money. We like Ireland. It is good for having a job, but it is expensive to live,” says Cristina. “It is not so good if you don’t have much money.”
Another family, including five children aged between two months and 17 years, are here with their mother. Living in homeless accommodation on nearby Gardiner Street, they don’t want to be named.
They have no cooking facilities, says the 17-year-old girl, adding that the food here is “the best”. They eat quickly as they need to get back to the hotel “to get ready for school in the morning”.
I have a roof over my head. I go to Mass every morning and I’m alive
Also here are several older people, including one very frail looking woman aged 80. Dressed in a beige coat, woollen trousers and boots, she is crouched over as she stands waiting for the volunteers to begin serving. She does not want to talk to a journalist, saying only that she is from “the south side”.
Angela (74) does not want to give her surname. She is from Co Meath, and stresses she is “not homeless” and does not come regularly for food. Asked if money is tight, she says: “Well this is it. It’s hard managing, and the staff here are lovely.”
John Nugent (75), originally from Doonbeg, Co Clare, is renting a “small flat” in Rathmines. “I suppose I’m here because I’m living beyond my means...I get out every day. I have a roof over my head. I go to Mass every morning and I’m alive.”
Feed Our Homeless, founded in 2016 by Dublin man Tony Walsh, is part of a proliferation of voluntary projects providing food to some of the poorest people in the city centre and throughout suburbs like Ballyfermot, Coolock, Clondalkin and Tallaght.
It runs a street stall three nights a week between 7.30pm and 10pm, and a rough-sleeper outreach seven nights a week.
The numbers are going up and up all the time. It’s phenomenal. Things are not getting better. They are getting worse
On a recent Sunday night the stall for the first time ran out of food some 90 minutes after opening.
The organisation is one of at least a dozen entirely voluntary groups that have emerged in Dublin in recent years in response to the homelessness crisis, providing free food in the city centre and suburbs.
The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has voiced concern the groups could be diverting homeless people away from statutory services. But Mr Walsh says the need is clear.
“The numbers are going up and up all the time. It’s phenomenal. Things are not getting better. They are getting worse.”
Most of those using the free-food stall on the Sunday evening appear to be aged between 30 and 55. Some are in good form, chatting with volunteers.
Some eat quietly and leave, including one Asian woman in her 40s who walks some way from the stall to eat away from the melee.
A woman in her 30s from Finglas says he has been homeless since just after Christmas following rows with her parents. “It all just went belly-up,” she says. She is staying with a friend “for now”.
I had everything. I was working on the buildings. I have tried to get work. It doesn’t come through as soon as they see you’re homeless
Several are sleeping rough, explaining they prefer to be than to go to a hostel due to drug-taking and thefts in the hostels. A number say they would use the hostels if they had their own room, but most rooms are multiple occupancy.
Declan (55), who does not want to give his surname, shows a picture of his “campsite up the mountains” – a tent and cooking stove in a field. He gets a bus into the city daily. “The hostels are totally dysfunctional,” he says.
Some are clearly distressed. Early in the evening an argument breaks out when a man takes a chocolate bar without queueing. He gets agitated, yelling, “it’s just one bar”.
Aged 50 and from Co Offaly, he was evicted from his flat two years ago because it was “full of damp” and the landlady was not allowed let it anymore.
“I’m homeless since. I had everything. I was working on the buildings. I have tried to get work. It doesn’t come through as soon as they see you’re homeless.
“A way out of this? A place. Give me a place. A place to stay and I’ll work. I’ll pay my rent. I’ll do anything. People don’t realise.”