Turkey dinner on the street: How the homeless spent Christmas
‘I spent it sleeping. The day before I was drinking and don’t remember how it finished up’
Lorraine Murphy and Margaret Joyce dance at the Knights of Columbanus Christmas dinner at the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Shazia Butt and her son Muhammad Gabrielle (2) at the Knights of Columbanus Christmas dinner at the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Gavin Whelan and Peter O’Hara at the Knights of Columbanus Christmas dinner at the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Mary, a tall, strongly-built, blond-haired woman in her late 20s with a loud, phlegmy laugh, has been homeless since she left her mother’s house a few months ago. She gives the impression of being irrepressibly cheerful.
“What do I do all day? I walk around. I get stoned. I take loads of pills. That’s what I’m doing now – waiting for some pills.”
On Christmas Day she and Mark, who have just come from the Focus Point cafe in Dublin’s Temple Bar, were at the RDS in Ballsbridge for the annual Knights of St Columbanus Christmas Day dinner for the homeless.
“We had a ball. We all got drunk. They had cider, Guinness, lager, whatever you wanted. They gave us goody bags when we were leaving. Toys for the kids.”
She has two pre-teen children, boys who live with their father and his mother. What she would like is a roof over her and their heads and a bit of heating, “and that would be me happy”.
Mark (19) came to Dublin from Croatia a few months ago, because he always wanted to see Ireland. He was robbed soon after his arrival, and quickly found himself homeless. He discovered the freefone homeless service number run by Dublin City Council, and got a bed in the Merchants Quay hostel. “I go there every night. I’m a big fan of Merchants Quay.”
While Mary and Mark are talking, we are joined by Sean, a handsome, bearded man with hair to his shoulders and a backpack on his back. He’s 40 and from Waterford, and he too was at the RDS for the Christmas dinner. What did he do afterwards? “I went to give a hand with the soup run around Grafton Street.”
Reserved, well-spoken, he gets some part-time work with movies but the work is sporadic and he cannot afford to rent accommodation. He has been homeless for six months and, like Mark, speaks highly of the Merchants Quay night shelter. However, for the past two nights someone has been putting him up.
“I had a room to myself, even my own bathroom. It was like paradise. It’s great to be able to close the door behind you.”
During the day he goes to libraries, internet cafes, looks online for jobs, finds somewhere to charge his phone. One of the burdens of being homeless is not having somewhere to put your stuff, and having to carry it around all day.
Olli (39) is walking away from the Focus Point cafe when he agrees to talk. He suggests that he go to a shop to buy some beers but we go to a cafe instead. He has two beers during our 15- to 20-minute chat. He doesn’t drink much, but when he does he likes to drink “for three days”.
Originally from southern Russia, he grew up in Riga, Latvia, worked in international shipping for a few years, married an English woman and lived in the UK for a decade, and is now separated. He suggests a particular, unpleasant word to describe his wife. They have a young daughter.
He has a pronounced Russian accent, is strong and handsome, and could be a banker wearing weekend clothes. In fact he works on building sites, employed by an agency, and doesn’t get enough money to rent an apartment. He’s been in Dublin a few months. “I know a few people but I don’t have friends.”
“Yesterday [Christmas Day] I spent sleeping. The day before I was drinking and I don’t remember how it finished up.” He is currently living in a hostel in Temple Bar where some of the guests are homeless and others are tourists.
“Everyone has different lives, but for me the last two years have been really f**ked up.” Where does he see himself in, say, six months? “Still alive.”
Robert, in his 30s, is from rural Ireland and has a spot on a street near Leinster House where he begs. His family was hit by a succession of suicides over a period of eight years. First one brother, then another, then his father, and then another brother. “One set the others in motion, maybe. There are no real answers to these things.”
He came up to Dublin more than a year ago. “It was a bit raw down home, so I came up here.” He is receiving bereavement counselling in Merchants Quay and hopes that when he is finished, he can go back home to be with his mother and the rest of his family.
There are crutches on the pavement beside him. He hurt a leg falling down some steps in a lane recently. He sometimes sleeps rough and sometimes gets a bed. “I know no one up here, but to be honest I like the peace and quiet; it helps me get my head together.”
He might have gone to the RDS for Christmas Day dinner if it weren’t for his leg. A woman who knows him from passing him on the street brought him a Christmas dinner – turkey, Brussels sprouts, “the whole lot” – which he ate on Molesworth Street while it was still hot. “I got a nice bottle of orange too.” He spent the night sleeping in the lane near the steps he fell down.
Thomas (32) has been homeless in Dublin for about 18 months, since he came down from Navan. He grew up in the Goldenbridge orphanage, in Inchicore, where he was abused and, after leaving there aged 16, stayed in a few health board-run homes. He has a number of anxiety-type conditions and was given an award by the Redress Board some years ago, which he is appealing as he believes it was inadequate.
He shares a room with three other men in a house run by the Simon Community. On Christmas Day they had “a lovely chicken dinner followed by dessert, custard apple pie”. Then they watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. After that Thomas watched Taken 2, starring Liam Neeson, “one of the best Irish actors ever”. He hopes to stay where he is for the next few months. During the day he likes to read books about business. He visits charity shops and buys high-end clothes and other goods, which he then sells at a profit on eBay.
“I’d like to see everyone have success,” he says. “We’re all entitled to happiness. And to find love.”