by Alan Jacques
AFTER spending three weeks sleeping out rough on the city’s streets, 34-year-old Limerick man Dean Sheehan says he was left broken from the experience.
Unable to sleep at night because of the constant fear of being attacked in the doorways and squats he sought refuge in, Dean could barely keep his eyes open when the Limerick Post met up with him last week.
He was mentally and physically exhausted from his time on the streets and admits to having felt suicidal and totally let down by the system.
Dean was made homeless last month after falling into arrears with his rent in the city. After presenting himself to the council’s Homeless Action Team four weeks ago, he claims he was told the only accommodation available short-term was at McGarry House, run by Novas Initiatives on Alphonsus Street.
“In the four or five nights I stayed there, I was offered heroin, up-johns, cannabis and would have fellas coming over offering me drink or asking me to go halves on a bag of gear. I really didn’t want to be there,” Dean explained.
“I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and couldn’t sleep in the place. I didn’t want to stay there and was worried about being around drugs and drink because of my current situation. I was worried I would be tempted to be honest, and I have enough problems as it is.”
He chose to sleep rough on the streets and for three weeks had been putting his head down in doorways and squats around the city. He tells me he was awake most nights for fear of being attacked, lost his appetite and was frustrated that no one seemed willing to help.
He also showed me a letter from a local GP stating that he should be made a priority for housing because of the effect homelessness is having on his mental health.
“To get rent allowance you first have to have a home address. I can’t get on the housing list without it, which means I have no way to change my situation. All I want is a leg up to help me take this first step. The next 20 steps I can take myself.
“I feel really angry that none of the agencies I have gone to seem to care. I am just fobbed off and moved around as they tell me there’s nothing they can do. Worse than feeling suicidal, I feel that no one cares and is willing to help me. They won’t even listen to me.”
As soul-destroying as the desperate situation Dean found himself in, agencies including Limerick City and County Council’s homeless action team and Novas Initiatives as well as Sinn Fein councillor Malachy McCreesh were doing their utmost behind the scenes to help him secure accommodation.
“Finding accommodation within the Limerick City area is a very difficult task for everyone whether through the Housing Department or renting from private landlords,” Cllr McCreesh explained.
“If a person becomes homeless, they will get priority but again there is a shortage of suitable accommodation and individuals are provided with a limited choice. I think the homeless action team is doing their best in difficult circumstances and hopefully will find a positive solution for this individual,” he said.
Due to client confidentiality, a spokeswoman for Novas Initiatives said they were not in a position to comment on individual cases. However, she pointed out that while Novas’ McGarry House works with people with addiction it does not condone drug use and do not permit it on the premises.
“It is also important to note that while we work with drug users, the majority of our clients are not active in addiction and access our services for a range of other reasons, primarily due to homelessness which arose as a result of mental health issues, family breakdown, poverty and an utter lack of affordable and social housing,” she said.
A spokesman for Limerick City and County Council stated that it was committed to supporting persons who present as homeless, and works very closely with other statutory and voluntary agencies.
“While it is not the norm to comment on individual cases, the Council believes the person referred to has stayed at McGarry House under the Winter Initiative since last weekend, has subsequently expressed his desire to remain at McGarry House, and has asked to be considered by the homeless action team for the allocation of a full room at McGarry House.”