Bringing comfort to where they lie
Merchants Quay Ireland’s Assertive Outreach team walk the streets and parks of Dublin city centre every morning to check on people who’ve slept overnight on pavements, in doorways and in tents. They carry backpacks with them full of basic supplies to hand out like food, water, wipes and hand sanitizer. Mostly they bring the gift of human connection; a warm conversation, advice and information, a friendly smile for people who often spend their days all alone. Our Head of fundraising, Carol, spent a morning in May with the team on their route to see first-hand how our rough sleepers are coping with COVID. Carol has shared her experience here:
It’s painful to picture anyone pushed this far into the background
Early that bright May morning, driving into town I notice tents pitched along the canal. I wonder who is inside, about their story, their family, how alone they must feel. I can only imagine how much worse the fear and loneliness they were already dealing with is now, during this pandemic. All we’re hearing is talk of distancing and isolation, but this was their reality even before COVID. It has never been as evident how far they were left behind as it is now.
I meet the team, Jenny, Richie and Owen, and we load up our backpacks and agree the route. Just a five-minute walk from Merchants Quay, we find a small group taking shelter at the church gates on Thomas Street. Cardboard boxes underneath their sleeping bags insulate them from the cold stone steps. The team gently approaches each one by one, checking for breathing, any sign of movement. Those awake are so grateful when we greet them with “Good morning. Were you here all night, are you okay? Would you like a bite to eat?” Others didn’t get to sleep until the sun warmed their spot, so they just want to be left to rest. Jenny slips a note beside them with the number to call and the Riverbank opening times for food and medical help when they’re properly awake. We move on when we’ve made sure everyone’s okay.
Anything could happen to her
At the Phoenix Park, there are a group of tents under some trees, out of the way but still within view of the early morning joggers and dog-walkers out enjoying their fitness routines. It’s a disturbing contrast to witness; such healthy people enjoying the outdoors, passing by the rough sleepers. My vision of young people in tents is of happy times enjoying camping or at a music festival, not abandoned and in very real danger. Now, a new image of a waif-thin young women so vulnerable, cold and tired, will forever be etched in my mind.
When we get to Henry Street, I am horrified. It’s like something out of a movie. The empty streets are silent. In every second shop doorway there are rolled-up bundles. They are people curled up in cardboard and bits of old carpet, some in sleeping bags. People are starting to wake, sitting up, rubbing their arms and legs. Others just sit, looking dazed, staring at the pavement in front of them. They have nowhere to go. Jenny, Richie and Owen immediately start their work, stopping to talk to each and every person. “Did you manage to grab a few hours? What’s your plan for the rest of the day? You can get a bite to eat at Merchants Quay Ireland if you come over. We have hot food to take away. You might check in with the nurse when you’re there about that sore, her name’s Marguerite, she’ll be there.” The team note the numbers of people they meet and any follow up action requested. There are smiles exchanged, bottles of water given out, vital information shared.
He looked up as if in slow motion
Outside St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is a young man in his early twenties, not sleeping, just sitting on the pavement. He looks disheveled and miserable. He’s wearing shorts and the large red sores on his shins are in dire need of medical attention. Owen suggests he pop in to MQI that day to get treated. The young fellow tells us that he had a hostel bed last night but doesn’t know where he’ll end up tonight. Jenny checks the centralized Pass System on her phone and confirms that he is actually booked into that same hostel for a number of nights. Relief washes over his face. He accepts a chocolate Easter egg from Owen, laughing when Owen says “It’s a fancy Lindt one – only the best for our clients.” Casual friendly banter, even for a few minutes of lightness, is like healing balm.
We head back to Merchants Quay where the team pack up more supplies and make phone calls to follow up for some of this morning’s clients. It’s clear to me that the work being done by Jenny, Richie and Owen – MQI’s Assertive Outreach – is absolutely vital. Especially while so many of the day services clients rely on for food, shelter, sociability and relief have been closed or reduced. We may not be able to welcome people into the warmth of the Riverbank drop-in for the time being, but we go out into the city to meet our clients. Offering comfort and kindness we show them they haven’t been forgotten.
Let’s go back for the ones left behind
We reached 33 people on the streets that morning in just a few hours. There are so many new faces. Their despair is growing as the weeks wear on. Please, if you can, help MQI to find and embrace the most forgotten among us, make your donation today to expand the Outreach Service for our hidden homeless men and women.
Let’s go back together for the ones left behind.
You can support the outreach team by donating here…