The area in which I live in Dublin has a situation involving homelessness and drug addiction.
From the fleabag hotels on Gardner Street that house several single mothers and their children, to the rough sleepers in the shop doorways, Dublin 1 – the North inner city – is not a great advertisement for Ireland’s economic recovery.
Part of the reason that this area is so popular with addicts is the level of tolerance with which the police seem to treat them. The argument is, that if the addicts are corralled into this designated area and allowed to carry out their business with minimal interference then it’s better for the city as a whole. It’s a policy of confinement I suppose, and I support it in principle.
I live next door however so it’s something to which I receive daily exposure. And it can be upsetting.
Yesterday I left the house at 8am – within 3 minutes I was at the junction which separates the shiny, modern, glass buildings of the IFSC where I live; and the grimy grot of Amiens Street which is Old Dublin. This part of town has always been poor – one hundred years ago it was a red light district. It is still an area mired in poverty and has been massively neglected by successive governments.
The homeless guy who sleeps in his sleeping bag in the portico of the Garda station on Store Street is sort of emblematic of the whole neighbourhood.
In the morning the addicts are usually sleeping, but you’ll see the women with their children leaving the hotels on Gardner Street around that time. I wonder what they do all day.
Each morning I pass the same two Roma women sitting about 100 metres apart selling the Big Issue to passers-by.
There is a guy who sleeps in the same shop doorway every night on Talbot Street. Well I assume it’s the same guy – but as he has his head covered with a sleeping bag I cannot be sure. The shop is vacant so there’s no irate shopkeeper moving him on. Sometimes he has a female companion and they huddle in their adjoining bags. It makes me sad that these two are out on the street like that, but also a little bit relieved that they have some companionship.
The Soup Kitchen stall is often set up outside the Tesco’s or the Talbot Mall on Talbot Street. This is staffed by volunteers raising money for the homeless and hungry. Occasionally I’ll feel a pang of guilt and give a couple of euros and hurry by.
This morning there was a woman passed out in front of the butcher’s shop and the nice butcher man who works inside was trying to wake her up..
The walk home in the evening is more eventful. The addicts are not asleep at this point. I was going to say that they are awake but that’s not strictly true. They are the walking zombies. The Undead of Dublin. The zonked out stares, and the glazed, sunken eyes in their grey faces are the giveaway.
I prefer when I see an addict couple who are in love with each other. When they are fighting it is more distressing. They don’t have any vocal inhibitions so the threats they make, as they flail about the street, oblivious to everything but their own argument can be quite eye-opening. If you’re a driver then you need to be careful, as often it seems that passing traffic doesn’t register with them and they’ll stagger out in front of it without a thought.
I have sympathy for people whose lives have been ruined by addiction and homelessness (and it seems that if you are homeless then you are probably also suffering from addiction and mental health issues). But that doesn’t mean I owe them money for a fix. If I was to give two euros to every person that asks me for cash I would soon be in the pauper’s prison.
But they will ask. Usually they’ll say the money is for a hostel. Often times they will shout ‘God bless’ at you even if you don’t acknowledge them. Most times I will mutter a faint ‘No sorry’ at them, feeling guilty as I rush by.
It’s seldom that they are aggressive – I suppose they ask so many people and are ignored by so many, that it’s not worth the effort. Yesterday however a guy shouted ‘FUCK YOU’ at me. Rude I thought.
The drunk young woman that hangs about James Joyce Street screaming hysterically at random strangers is my least favourite occasional encounter. She seems so desolate, unhappy, beyond reach. And scary.
Sometimes they’ll have a yarn about their wallet being stolen and trying to raise the fare for a ticket back to Cavan. It’s when you meet them three evenings in a row and they are still trying to raise the fare, that you start getting suspicious. Yesterday I gave two euros to a guy with that story. I expect to meet him again in the near future. Unless he really does get the bus back to Cavan.
I hope he does.
I doubt he will.