As we all look forward to the return of the St. Patrick’s Day parade and festival, this year’s theme of “connection” is particularly poignant for the Dublin Simon Outreach team, who work on the streets of Dublin every day making connections with people who are isolated and sleeping rough. As thousands of people flock to Dublin City centre to celebrate the first St. Patrick’s Day Festival since 2019, Dublin Simon Community’s Outreach team is asking the public to please be mindful of people who are sleeping rough throughout the holiday period.
Dublin Simon Outreach Manager, Ciarán King, said that while many eagerly anticipate what promises to be the biggest and best St Patrick’s Day in recent memory, he and his team are mindful about what this year’s four-day festival will bring:
“St Patrick’s Day is always a really challenging time for people who sleep rough, but after three years with no parade, no celebrations, Covid-19 restrictions etc., there is a sense that this year will be the toughest yet. We’re expecting bigger crowds, a lot more tourists and with the extra bank holiday, it’s likely that overcrowding and the potential for anti-social behaviour will remain high throughout the four-day weekend, which impacts on people who sleep on the streets.
According to King, overcrowding in the city is very disruptive to people sleeping rough, causing many to move from where they usually bed down and making it more difficult for outreach workers to check in with and support them.
“As the streets get busy and noisy, many people will move to new places until the activity dies down to get some peace and privacy. Over the course of the few days, this movement can make it difficult for the team to locate people on their daily rounds – someone who might always be found on one street might suddenly be somewhere else.”
“Lots of the people we help might not have a phone, credit or battery, which makes it even harder to find them and provide them with daily support. At times like this, we are more reliant than ever on the public to update us through the app or call us when they see someone sleeping rough – this might be someone we have been looking for who is in serious need of support.”
Encouraging People to Take Shelter
The Dublin Simon Outreach team provide on-street support to people sleeping rough across Dublin City and county from 7am to 1am five days a week, and 8am – 1am at weekends and will be out on the street throughout the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The Outreach team’s focus is to support people who are sleeping rough to access accommodation that is suitable to their needs, where they can link in with other vital supports to move them out of homelessness.
While there are enough emergency beds available in Dublin at present, there are myriad complex reasons why a person might sleep out, which is where the team’s real expertise comes in, King explains:
“For some people, accessing emergency accommodation is the first step in moving out of homelessness. With these people, we meet them, assess them and secure accommodation for them, where they can access keyworkers, counselling, treatment and other supports to help move them on to a place they can call home. For other people, accepting accommodation is the last step. There can be barriers to access that our team needs to remove before the person will accept a safe and secure bed.
“These could be systemic blocks like paperwork and documentation, which our team helps to secure, or more personal blocks. Someone in active addiction might need a low-threshold service where they can drink for example, whereas someone in recovery or who is working might need a higher threshold service where drinking is not permitted. There may also be couples who understandably want to be placed in the same room, or couples who have been placed in the same room who have since broken up. The team liaises closely with the DRHE to find accommodation that is suited to everyone’s needs.
“There are also people with very complex mental health needs who are deeply entrenched in rough sleeping. These people are very mistrustful of services and authorities and so the daily relationship-building our team does is key. Over time, our team works to build trust with these people and supports them to access the psychiatric or health services they need to move out of homelessness. With these clients, success might look like finally encouraging them to access accommodation or building enough trust for them to tell the team their name.”
Another key concern ahead of the four-day weekend is the potential for anti-social behaviour, and the impact this has on people who are sleeping rough across the city. King explains:
“Generally, people who sleep rough deliberately choose quiet side streets and alleyways to bed down in, where there is more privacy and less noise and disturbance. What we’ve found over the years is that on heavy drinking days like these, these quiet alleyways and side streets often become designated spots for public urination and defecation. Even if someone sleeping rough has temporarily moved away from their usual spot until the festivities die down, it really isn’t a nice situation to come back to. Someone’s belongings or where they usually sleep could be destroyed.”
Of greater concern, according to King, is the potential for people sleeping rough to sustain injuries from being trodden on or attacked by members of the crowds:
“When the city is heaving with people, and alcohol is involved, the chances of someone being walked on or fallen on is much higher. Even last year, during the lockdown, we had people presenting to us the following morning with bruises and black eyes from being stumbled on throughout the day.
“While falling or bumping into someone is an accident, occasionally, homeless people are actually attacked. Last year for example, several clients’ tents were set on fire. We are hoping for a safer experience for our clients this year.
Advice to the Public
For those planning to take to Dublin City Centre for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, King has some advice:
“The first thing we would advise people to do is to please contact the Dublin Simon Outreach team via the Rough Sleeper Alerts app or phone us on 01 872 0185 if they see someone in need of support.
“With the city centre being so busy and the increased interaction that this brings, some people will find this stressful, so be mindful and respectful, as some people will be looking for a peaceful place in a packed city.
“Lastly, we would just ask people to be as respectful as they can. It’s a really difficult day for people on the streets and little things like watching where you step, where you put your litter and where you gather or congregate can make a real difference for people experiencing homelessness. Let’s use this festive celebration to allow all people to experience the theme of ‘connection’ this St. Patricks weekend including our homeless.”