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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 18 April 2021

Column: What it’s like to be homeless over Christmas

Kenneth spent last Christmas without a home. He describes what it’s like on the streets, and his plans for the future.


I’VE BEEN HOMELESS for almost eight years. I was introduced to drugs at 13, sniffing Tipp-ex and petrol then moving onto hash and ecstasy. I started using heroin at 16.

I was living in the family home and later with my partner. We had a child but, she had me put out of the house because of my chaotic drug use. At age 26 I was sleeping in houses on construction sites. My family wouldn’t have me back because I had messed up so badly.

At one point I bought a tent and lived in a field in Tallaght for about nine months. When winter came I would roll up in a duvet and then crawl inside my sleeping bag to stay warm. I’d always go to bed thinking, will I wake up tomorrow or will I freeze in my sleep. Some mornings I’d wake up with frost on my sleeping bag, inside the tent.

Another time I was sleeping on a building site in just a sleeping bag and I woke up and I couldn’t move my legs. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I couldn’t move. So I had to scream. A security guard found me and called an ambulance. My legs were basically frozen. I had frostbite on me toes. They put a big silver blanket around me and at the hospital they put me in a room that was just roasting. That was to heat me back up. It was awful, just nasty, the frostbite. Being in the hospital was a comfort. A lovely bed, people bringing you meals and caring about you.

‘That’s what gets you. Trying to fill the day’

On the street no one gives a fuck. Except places like Merchants Quay. When you’re homeless and you wake up in the morning, the big thing is, nowhere to go and walking around. That’s what gets you. Just trying to fill the day. Places like Merchants Quay are good to get in off the street for a meal and a chat with the staff.

I was begging on Ha’penny Bridge when a guy gave me change and ask if I knew where to go. He told me about the drop-in at Merchants Quay. I was intimidated when I first came into Merchants Quay. But the staff really welcomed me. I’m really close to a couple of the staff members now.

I remember watching the Discovery Channel on the telly. It was so funny. There was a tribe living in a hut and cooking their meals altogether. And I said, “They’re so lucky, they have a home to go to.” And I said it to my mate and he said, “You’re right, I was thinking the same thing”. Staying in a hostel is nothing like having your own place to live.

You ring the hostels and are told a time to be there. If I didn’t get in on time I’d have to sleep out that night. I was never sure that on any given night I would have a place to stay. Some hostels are OK, but some are horrible. The worst have everyone in a dorm style room. All sorts of things go on. I would sleep on top of the bed in my clothes because the bed clothes were filthy, it reeked. I had to tie my trainers to me belt so they wouldn’t get stolen off me in the night. I was afraid of being attacked if there was any money in me pocket. They’d take the eyes out of your head in those places. Basically it’s a real dive, I never felt safe. Most of the hostels you have to be out by 9am and you can’t get back in until late evening. So you just have to walk around, no matter what the weather.

‘I wasn’t invited last Christmas’

I suffer from depression. I’m on medication. I stopped taking meds and ended up in St Brendan’s Hospital. From there they got me a place in a hostel with my own room. It’s a very good place. I can come and go as I please and I visit Merchants Quay during the day. I’m still homeless. Can’t bring anyone there, but I have my own room and bathroom so I can sleep warm and safe.

When I came up to Dublin I got in a lot of fights at first. People have to get to know you. They have to know you’re not to be trifled with. I’ve never been in prison but I’ve been told it’s kinda like prison. You have to stand up for yourself or else you’ll get walked on. People will rob off you and stuff like that. I was chaotic on street drugs for a good few years. I don’t use heroin anymore and I’m off cocaine. I’m on methadone and my life is getting stable. Hopefully within a few months I will be able to get myself a place and be out of homelessness. But, I hate living alone. I hate being on my own.

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At Christmas my Dad would always ring and say “come up for Christmas, stay the night”. But a couple of years ago I took some time release tablets and fell asleep at the dinner table. He was disgusted with me. I was disgusted with myself. I wasn’t invited last Christmas. But this Christmas will be different. My dad’s after inviting me to come stay for a few days. I’m delighted.

At Christmas everyone is rushing around busy and you don’t feel a part of anything. You want to turn to drugs to get that out of your head. But I’m stable and don’t want to use. Hopefully I will be out of homelessness soon. I write a lot. I write a lot of poetry about my experiences and I keep a diary about my life on the streets of Dublin. When I have enough, I’m going to sort it all out and write a book.

Kenneth did not wish to reveal his full name. He got help and support at Merchant’s Quay Ireland. You can also find them on Facebook.

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