Josh, 23: ‘I have no hope. If my mood continues I won’t be here next week’

It’s raining heavily and his clothes are drenched. The small dome tent he calls home, pitched on the banks of the River Lee just inches from an unprotected wharf, is soaked through. Cars and buses zoom past. Shoppers scurry by. City life goes on.

Josh O’Donovan, 23, shrugs his shoulders. He says he has no home, no money, no food, and no family support. Then he pauses, gazes towards the river and says: “I have no hope.

“If my mood continues the way I’m going, I won’t be here next week — that’s the God’s honest truth. I have no other option. Nothing.” Stacey Curtin, 25, who is originally from East Cork and who is sharing another tent with her fiancé, tries to offer some words of comfort.

But Josh said it’s getting harder to endure a life on the streets.

“No-one is helping; we feel we have to do this on our own. How do we get to the next step? It’s proving harder and harder day by day,” he said.

Josh and Stacey are among a group of some 10 people living in tents on St Patrick’s Quay on the northern channel of the River Lee, in the heart of Cork city centre.

Four tents were pitched there yesterday, including the large white marquee-style structure which has been occupied for months by a man known only as Mr No Name.

He has declined to confirm his real name but has welcomed those who have pitched tents nearby.

The encampment, which has been dubbed “Freedom Wharf” or “TentsVille”, gives those who call it home a sense of community, a sense of security, they say.

But Cork City Council plans to clear the quay. It’s understood the plans are at an advanced stage.

The city council and Cork Simon both say their homeless outreach teams have engaged with the tent dwellers but that their offers of help have been declined.

“We know there is bed capacity in the city’s homeless hostels and therefore tent dwellers are visited by the Simon outreach team and Cork City Council’s outreach worker very regularly and invited to avail of the options available,” the council said in a statement.

“The consistent response is one of non-engagement and a wish not to interact with any services.

“Staff are told that this form of accommodation (tents) is a personal choice the people concerned have made. Furthermore, they are not asking to be housed.”

A former lord mayor, Fine Gael Cllr Des Cahill, who led calls during the summer to have the encampment classed as litter and removed, renewed those calls yesterday.

But Josh and Stacey both insist that living in a tent isn’t a choice.

Josh says he left school at 16 and left home soon afterwards. He blames “family difficulties”. He says he’s been sleeping rough, on and off, since he was about 17.

“I’d get myself sorted, get a job, and would go back home but then it would all fall apart again and I’d end up back at square one,” he says.

By his early 20s, he says he was sleeping in cars or sofa-surfing and when those options ran out, he spent time in a Simon shelter.

He’s the father of an 11-month-old he rarely sees.

He’s been living in a tent since the end of January, and in a tent on St Patrick’s Quay for the last two weeks.

“It’s tough, it’s cold and it’s sore,” he says.

“You’re sleeping on concrete. You feel it on your sides. I’m dying sick with a head cold, I can’t shower, I can’t wash my clothes, I barely eat. I have no money, no address.”

“People give us a few bob and we get food parcels in the evening from Helping Cork’s Homeless, with a sandwich and a bag of Tayto.

“There is nowhere to wash. The closest place I have to wash is in the river, and I wouldn’t put myself into it.

“I go to the toilet in the bus station, and if we can’t get in there, you have to sneak into nearby places because if the owners see you, they ring the guards.

“We feel safe during the daytime. There is nothing to do. You just sit around. Hoping for the day to go by.

“But, at night, people walk past calling us homeless scum, dirty scumbags, every name under the sun they can think of.”

“Our heads are right next to the footpath. You don’t know if something is going to come in on top of us, or if someone will come in on top of us with a knife, you just don’t know.

“It is getting very hard, with the winter coming in — you can feel it in the mornings. It is getting colder now.” 

Stacey, a mother of two children under five, says she lost her home after going into a treatment programme for addiction issues.

She says there are times they feel like zoo animals, with people taking photographs of their encampment from nearby Brian Boru bridge.

“We are people,” she says.

Despite the authorities insisting that shelter beds are available, Josh says he can’t avail of them.

“There is no bed there for me. I wish there was, but there isn’t,” he says.

“They can try to move me from here, try to get me off this spot. I will not be budging without a fight. And that’s a fact.

“I just want a house, somewhere to live, a one-bedroom flat, I don’t care.

“I’ll sleep on a couch and put the child in the bedroom, just as long as I’m off the streets, have a roof over my head and I get to see my child.”

“Just somewhere I can bring him, and he’s safe, and can spend time with his dad.

“And I could do with a change of clothes too.”

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