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“I’ve been sleeping on the streets for the past three months,” says a young man outside the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. “I don’t like hostels. My mam OD’d in a hostel two years ago. They’re not the place for me, do you know what I mean?”
He says his main issue with homeless hostels in Dublin is the number of drug users who stay in them. “Me mam was on drugs and ended up ODing over drugs. I don’t like drugs after being around them for so long and then her going and then me just being left on my own.”
The 19-year-old from Clondalkin adds that he visited Apollo House, the unauthorised homeless shelter set up by housing activists in a vacant property on Tara Street, but is not sure if it is for him.
“I was down there this morning, having a nose, having a look to see what it was like, talking to two of the staff members. I know them well because they do the soup kitchens up around here. I was just seeing what it was like to give it a try. But I don’t know whether to go down or not.”
The last three months have been rough, he says. He was sleeping in a tent in south Dublin for a while but moved into the city centre when the weather deteriorated.
“I was staying out in Milltown with the boys in the tents for a while but I’m moving back in here now. The tents are getting flooded; it’s just too much hassle bringing more sleeping bags out.”
Around the corner, another homeless man, Tomasz, says he had not heard of the development in Apollo House. “Apollo House?” he asks. “That was Social Welfare before? Are they squatting?”
Originally from Poland, Tomasz says he has lived in Ireland since 2004. “I was working 10½ years, great job, I was a machine operator in a medical devices factory in Cork.
“I met a girl . . . she was nagging me ‘let’s move to Dublin, let’s move to Dublin. There are loads of medical device companies in Dublin, you’ll find a job no problem.’ Bulls**t. In Dublin they only employ to medical devices through agencies, so you can only do 11 months.”
Later his girlfriend moved away and their relationship broke down. “I got totally depressed, I started drinking, I lost my job and ended up on the streets. From 2010, I am on and off on the streets. I’m doing 11 months of work and then when I finish work I have enough money to pay two, three months of rent and then what else can I do? They don’t give you permanent jobs anymore and they pay you minimum wage, this is bulls**t.”
He says he cannot get social welfare payments because he does not have a passport. “In 2002, in Poland, I had a court case for smashing the window of the school and robbing two microphones and an amplifier.
“I got 4½ years jail for that. They suspended it so I went to Ireland to work. Well, first to London, then to Amsterdam, and then to Gorey in Wexford.
“We went to France on summer holidays and I still had three days off from my work in Glanbia – that was the best job, seriously, €17 an hour and the longest shift I did was 23 hours and after eight hours they pay you double. Some of the cheques at the end of the week I had €1,700 – so I went to Poland for three days and, without explaining, they [the authorities] cancelled my suspension. They squeezed 4½ years into three years. So I spent 1½ years in jail. They let me out for good behaviour, I got parole.”
When Tomasz was released he went to Cork to be with his then girlfriend and got the job in the medical devices factory. After two years the relationship ended. “Then I found a new girlfriend from Cork. We rented the house together so we moved to Dublin.”
In Dublin he worked a series of jobs for 11 months but failed to find anything permanent. After that relationship fell apart his life seemed to come undone. He ended up on the streets and drifted back to drugs.
“When I was young I was a heroin addict but then I was clean for 10 years. But being on the street in Dublin, Dublin is flooded with heroin. But now I am doing well, now I am doing very good actually. I am on a methadone programme, obviously, but I don’t touch anything apart from sleeping tablets.”
He says a bar on him receiving a Polish passport because of his 2002 conviction will expire in 2017. This would mean he can apply for social welfare and, he hopes, get back on his feet and back to work.
“I like machines,” he says. “I like working with machines because, you know it’s a problem-solving job. A machine gets stuck somewhere you have to find the fault, fix it.”