‘You wake up and your feet are frozen and numb, you don’t feel any pain’

The cold weather was the worst part about living on the streets, homeless worker says

Jay Bobinac, who was homeless but is now helping other homeless people with the charity Tiglin in Dublin city. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Jay Bobinac, who was homeless but is now helping other homeless people with the charity Tiglin in Dublin city. Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

Falling temperatures and snow this week saw many homeless people fighting to keep warm. Jay Bobinac knows that struggle well, but instead of dwelling on it, he uses it as motivation to assist those in need.

Bobinac (24) slept on the streets of Dublin for just under a year when he first moved to Ireland from Croatia five years ago. Now, studying for a Masters in social care, he spends his days helping those facing homelessness and addiction.

He left Croatia seeking a better life as, he says, there were “no opportunities” for him at home. He thought Ireland would be the perfect place to live because it has a “similar culture” to Croatia.

However, Bobinac quickly learned finding a job wasn’t as easy as he had thought.

“I was homeless initially because I couldn’t find a job because I had no CV. I stayed on the streets with my brother, we stayed in Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park, in one of the bushes there. That wasn’t an ideal scenario, it wasn’t what we wanted so we continued looking for work but it wasn’t easy,” he says.

Winter

Bobinac says being homeless is particularly challenging in winter. “The hardest thing is to stay positive. Your basic need for warmth is not being met so it’s very taxing on the mind. You’ve nothing to look forward to, it’s cold constantly, you’re isolated from society – it’s a deadly combination,” he says.

“You’re afraid of frostbite because your limbs and feet and hands, the blood circulates back to your vital organs, so you don’t feel your feet. You wake up and your feet are frozen and numb and you don’t feel any pain or anything like that.”

He adds: “In Stephen’s Green they escort you out at 4am, sometimes 6am, so you’re very deprived of sleep and in order to get shower facilities you have to wait for a certain time and food as well.”

Did he ever regret moving to Ireland? No, Bobinac says. The challenges shaped him into a new person.

“That’s part of the journey. Sometimes, people like comfort, but there’s no growth in comfort. I wanted a bit more for myself and I was willing to pay the price of the obstacles that presented themselves to me,” he says.

Almost a year after he arrived in Ireland, his life changed again when he was helped by Tiglin, a drug, alcohol and gambling addiction charity. The organisation sourced accommodation for him and his brother and helped him to train and upskill to find work.

Now, after already completing a degree in applied social care, and currently undertaking a masters in IT Carlow, Bobinac works as a community employment supervisor at Tiglin’s soup kitchen on Pearse Street.

Young Humanitarian Award

Just before Christmas, he won the Irish Red Cross’s Young Humanitarian Award for his work helping people in vulnerable situations to advance their lives.

“I think the key message is that once I got help, you don’t owe anything to that person who helped you, but it’s up to you to help the next guy. I think that’s ingrained in me now to take people under my wing as I was because I’ve seen the result. Especially for people like myself who didn’t have the best opportunities, or didn’t feel belonging,” he said.

“The way I think about it is it’s not the end goal. There is life beyond addiction, life beyond homelessness, life beyond trauma. Yes it was a long journey – five years – but I feel I’m only starting to crawl. There’s so much more to happen. It’s only the beginning.”

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