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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 21 August, 2014

Column: ‘Your hope goes, and that’s that’ – a homeless drug user’s story

Homeless person John speaks to TheJournal.ie about the struggle to get clean, changes in drug use, and being branded a ‘stupid junkie’.

Catherine W

Today is World Homeless Day 2012. ‘John’ is a homeless man with addiction problems, who uses the services at Merchant’s Quay Ireland. He spoke to TheJournal.ie about his perspective – and the changing face of drug use in Ireland.

IT WAS HARD for me to come to the Merchants Quay at first. But it was somewhere to drop into, just somewhere to get in out of the cold.

I was getting into drugs; heroin was my drug of choice. I linked up with a care worker in Merchants Quay, I went into treatment, I got clean and I stayed clean for two or three years, but I slipped again. I have been struggling with this for over 15 years. I would get nervous about coming back, because I would feel that I had messed up again and let them down and let myself down. But there was no judgement whatsoever.

When I was on the streets I would actively choose not to stay in the hostels. There was 14 to 16 people to a room and you never knew who you were going to be with. I wouldn’t stay there even now. You would have to ring a free phone number every day and they would book you in, depending what hostels were available. There were certain ones I just would not go to, whether they had room or not. The bottom line is, you didn’t know who was going to be staying there. I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again, where others would be using. And also it was the dirtiness of it. There would be a fear you could sit on a needle in there, or of using the showers together.

How it progresses

I was given all the right information about how to stay clean. But then slowly I slipped back into it, from hanging around with the same people in the same places, and before I knew it I was back on the drugs. It is so easy to get into this situation. I had a great job in the building game, it was steady income and then all of a sudden that was gone. Your hope goes, you get embarrassed and that is how it progresses.

Over the years I have noticed a lot of changes. The sheer numbers of people using the service has shot up, there are a lot more foreign nationals coming too. There are definitely a lot more drug users now. The younger group of children using now – both boys and girls – are roughly 18 years of age I would say. Their choice of drug is heroin, but they are also messing around with other forms of drugs and combining them all. I have seen people lose limbs over this – literally within a couple of weeks, gone. They don’t know what they are putting into their bodies. You can try and tell them – I have, from someone with experience – but they won’t listen. It is no use.

The way people treat you can vary between good and very bad. In Merchant’s Quay there is no way you’d be branded a junkie by anyone, they don’t like that word even. But out on the street, that is a different story. It could be a simple brush of someone in the street, something that anyone could do on a crowded street. I was brought up well and with manners, so I would always say excuse me and apologise, but I would get called a stupid junkie and that could hurt.

Without realising

I was a ‘junkie’ as they would say, for about two or three years, before I even noticed I was. I really never copped on that anyone knew. But the truth was, everyone knew. I wouldn’t go to a methadone clinic because of it and because I was proud and didn’t want anyone to know my business. It is the stigma.

There are people that come into Merchants Quay who are not drug users, people that are simply homeless and down on their luck. But they can easily go down the wrong path, any of us can, and soon enough without you realising it, you are wrapped up in it and you can’t see past your nose.

At the moment I am fine. I am on a methadone programme. My goal is simply to get up and start again. I don’t want to be on something for the rest of my life. I believe I am strong enough, maybe not at this very moment, but some day. I know I will find it very hard to give it all up. I need a little help and now, I don’t mind asking for it.

John’s name has been changed. For more information about Merchants Quay Ireland visit their website at mqi.ie, or their Facebook page.

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