Dublin’s ‘Tent City’: How the housing and homelessness crisis is forcing people to camp in the woods
This is the new face of Ireland’s homeless crisis – one of a growing number of tent cities in forests and open fields where hordes of desperate people are being forced to seek shelter.
While the sight of a homeless person or two in sleeping bags or tents has become commonplace in towns and cities across the country, the phenomenon of communities of rough sleepers congregating is relatively new in Ireland.
This shift mirrors what happened recently in America, where many people who lost their homes during the economic crash were living in tents in the woods and woods on the outskirts of major cities.
A leading charity for the homeless told the Sunday World we can expect more phenomena of this nature due to a greater strain on housing services.
New figures released on Friday showed a record 11,632 people in emergency shelters in December.
The tented settlement we feature here is situated on the banks of the River Tolka, which flows past Ashtown in north-west Dublin.
Those forced to live in the makeshift shelters have no electricity, sewage or heating and are having to wrap up warm to battle the freezing conditions of the past few weeks.
While there appear to be dozens of tents in this group, we are informed that around 10 people live there and some of the extra tents are used as camp.
“I’ve been here in this place for about four months,” explains Portuguese-born Elvis (31), whose family named him after the American singer.
“I’ve been here about two years now. I worked in a hostel as a night porter. I lost my job then lived in Cabra East and couldn’t pay the rent. I’m looking for another job, but it’s hard to get.”
Elvis was temporarily living with a friend in Smithfield and was visiting a nearby soup run when he heard about the Ashtown property.
“He [friend] slept here and said it was nice. He was afraid to be here alone, so he said: “If you want to come here and pitch a tent, come to me”, so me and another Pole, Piotr, decided to join him. Then we met others at the soup runs and they participated.”
The group was approached by others but were told there was not enough space.
“The Council hasn’t come here yet,” he says. “We know they have the right to kick us out because they might point out that it’s public property and ‘how are you going to take out the trash.’ I don’t know what the general public thinks of us being here, sometimes I wonder.”
Although camps like that at Ashtown may be a recent phenomenon on these shores, Elvis believes theirs is not unique.
“I know some people are turning up at Smithfield. I heard there are camps in the Leopardstown area, something like that, and also in Blanchardstown. They have wives and children. I haven’t seen it with my own eyes,” says Elvis.
He adds that these temporary communities typically house between seven and ten people.
“There are people from Poland, Hungary, Croatia, India and Portugal,” he says. “We use some of the tents for storage, for example at the soup run when we get some jackets.”
As our team visited the site, an Irishman in a gray tracksuit in his late 20s appeared out of nowhere and, without introducing himself, began videotaping and live streaming the camp’s spending.
When Elvis asked if he was okay, the man replied, “Fine.” When asked if there were any problems, he snapped back, “No problems. Just see what’s going on and who’s here.”
When asked his name, he aggressively remarked, “Never mind.”
Some right-wing anti-immigrant activists have recently posted videos from the site, one of which read: “You must move out”. [sic].
Despite the intimidation, Elvis says he will stand his ground.
“I’m not really afraid because we’re Europeans, we’re fighting for the same cause,” he says.
“If there is a war, we have to fight for Europe. We stand for the same things, the same freedoms. The Irish are very similar to the Portuguese. If he (the man in the tracksuit) came and saw my side, maybe he would understand.”
Piotr (39) from south-eastern Poland also lives in one of the tents.
“Since 2006 I have been living in Ireland in temporary accommodation. I used to work on a construction site, security before that – but I’ve been homeless for a long time now and can’t afford anything anywhere,” he says.
Tamas (38) from eastern Hungary is another tent dweller. He has lived here for eight years.
“I had a business plan to develop lodging for New Age travelers and it didn’t work,” he says. “I’ve been here about seven months now.
“I came to work, but it didn’t work out. I like Ireland, but there is nothing going on here. I have no plans to return to Hungary at the moment.”
Tamas believes many homeless people living in shelters are misdiagnosed as addicts and troublemakers.
“Normal Irish people are average guys like us. It has nothing to do with nationality or skin color,” he says, adding that the government should do more.
“First of all, the government should do something about the homeless services, because that’s where people are abused,” he says.
“We don’t have addictions, we don’t do drugs, we don’t drink alcohol. The government does not separate us, there are different needs.
“It’s hard to take when you’re put around addicted people. We’re looking for jobs, but it’s not working right now and we don’t have a real place to live.”
Francis Doherty, head of Housing Services at the Peter McVerry Trust, says there could be a growing number of such tent villages.
“The unfortunate reality is that if they lose their private rent or there is some kind of family breakdown, more people will have difficulty accessing shelter for some reason, but there will be more people who are likely to be sleeping poorly,” he clarified.
“We see tremendous pressure on the homeless system and we see pressure on the international protection system,” says Mr. Doherty.
“The concern is that there will be more people who sleep rough, and the longer people sleep rough, the more structured that kind of routine becomes, so you could see people I suppose [through] Friendships or relationships and people forming small communities.
“We’ve had cases of this in the past, at Phoenix Park and other places, but we really don’t need to let it grow.
“[We need to] to get to these people as early as possible to get them into and out of shelter of some type of shelter as quickly as possible,” adds Mr. Doherty.
Roughan MacNamara, Head of Communications at Focus Ireland, agrees there is work to be done.
“Unfortunately, we expect that the number of homeless people will increase, and unless the government takes decisive action, the number of those who will also live without emergency shelters will increase,” he says.
“We also have the situation that individual refugees who arrive are told to go downtown and have something to eat and that is the only help they are given.
“They are left to their own devices and most of them will sleep poorly,” predicts Mr MacNamara.
https://www.independent.ie/news/inside-dublins-tent-city-as-desperate-homeless-forced-to-camp-out-in-woods-42317904.html Dublin’s ‘Tent City’: How the housing and homelessness crisis is forcing people to camp in the woods