Suddenly, after a decade of waiting, it happened. Gary had a roof over his head. A roof of his own.
In one small quarter of Twitter on Monday, this was news to brighten the day.
Gary, a 29-year-old from Tallaght who has spent 10 years in varying degrees of homelessness, had secured the keys to a self-contained flat in one of the nicer areas of Dun Laoghaire.
He even posted a photograph of the keys, and, later, a picture of the Chinese takeaway he’d bought to celebrate. After all the struggles, this was a memory to throw his arms around.
“I was known as sleeping on the streets, in tents,” he says. “This is a huge break for me.”
His story has many of the same themes as others who have found themselves homeless, but also has elements unique to him.
Gary has a degree in sociology, even though he didn’t have a steady address when he was a student.
His Twitter account, operating under the handle @OnThestreets1, was another.
In among the occasional political or sport-related retweet, Gary documented life as a homeless person, often with a campaigning edge.
Sometimes it was personal, like on December 13, when he tweeted a picture taken in an emergency room and the words: “Attacked as I slept yesterday in hospital. Some really low people out there. Homeless people need help, not hassle”.
Gary says that he started dabbling in heroin aged 15. It resulted in “burnt bridges” with his family, and set him off on a path familiar to people who access homeless services.
He balanced detox and being clean with falling off the rails — there was a conviction for car theft. He “destroyed” his relationship with his partner and young son, which he is now trying to repair.
“I couldn’t do anything without a permanent address — vote, open a bank account, right down to primary things people do as young adults.”
Clearly intelligent, he finally secured his sociology degree, and also underwent treatment for drug addiction with both Merchant’s Quay and Coolmine.
“My own choices led to me to the position that I felt I was in cul-de-sac,” he said, adding: “I’m clean over a year, coming up to 13 months.”
In the first half of that past year, he slept most nights at the airport; in the second half it was a tent in or near the Phoenix Park, yet back in 2010 he had a letter from South Dublin County Council stating that he would be housed within six months.
That didn’t happen and he moved between Dublin and Belfast over Christmas and new year. Then, just two days ago, he got the call he had been waiting for.
“I am delighted that I have a roof overhead, a bed, heating, a wardrobe, I can do my own washing. People take that stuff for granted, [but] I am so grateful for a toaster and kettle.”
The Twitter handle will remain the same, however, until he finally moves on to a tenancy.
“I have clear plans in my head. I want to go back to study again. I want to advocate for homeless people. I have aspects of life, now, that I want to get stuck into. I think there isn’t enough being done.
“I don’t think I’m wrote-off.”
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