MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Dublin's refugees living outside society’s lines

There is something incongruous about people living in tents in this affluent enclave, en route to nowhere, as life passes by on a city-bound train, writes Michael Clifford.

THE refugee camp is on the Luas line, in the heart of south Dublin, not far from Dundrum Town Centre. It looks down on the Dodder, across which sits Alexandra College for young ladies.

The refugees aren’t fleeing a war — not a conventional one anyway.

They haven’t arrived here after a perilous journey across sea or land.

Two of them to whom I spoke during the week are from down the country, the third has the cut of a man who has lived his life in the greater Dublin environs.

They exist in this settlement of tents, on a green area next to a substation which services the Luas line.

The train rumbles by every few minutes to a lazy beat. Some passengers turn a curious gaze to the settlement. Others don’t appear to notice it.

Maybe they’re right to pay no attention; maybe settlements like this are to be a fact of life in the future, but there is something incongruous about people living in tents in this affluent enclave, en route to nowhere, as life passes by on a city-bound train.

The rubbish is the biggest problem, according to John. He’s been without a roof over his head for two years and arrived in this camp of five tents about six months ago.

“The fellas from the council told us, once we take care of the rubbish, they’ll leave us alone.

“It’s a problem finding somewhere to get rid of it,” he says.

Peter sticks his head out from his tent, a little one-man number.

All you can see is his head. Everything, including his own body from the neck down, is inside that little tent.

He has a dog too, but it’s not clear whether the dog is in the tent or has gone for a run.

“The thing with me is the dog,” he says. “Lot of places won’t let a dog in. I get about €800 a month and the best I could get with my dog is a gaff for €1,200.”

He shrugs. He’s out of a home since last June.

“I was living in a squat but we got thrown out of that,” he says.

“Then I lost my job as a result. I was a gardener up in the Phoenix Park. I’d love to get something else.”

On Tuesday, the latest figures revealed that 7,167 people are without a home.

This figure is drawn from records showing how many people are living in emergency accommodation.

John and Peter and their fellow tent- dwellers are not included in the statistics.

It’s not known how many people without a home are unaccounted for in the official statistics.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said the record number of homeless people shows the success of the drive to ensure that more families are exiting homelessness than entering it.

Dublin's refugees living outside society’s lines

He said this on the basis that the number of families in homelessness dropped by 33 to 1,172.

So the rise in the incidence of homelessness isn’t really a failure, but a success, because a positive stat can be plucked from the overall figure. Or at least that’s the spin Mr Coveney puts on it.

Statistics in the camp have also changed. There were seven men in situ; now there are only four.

The departed have gone to hostels, but that option holds no attraction for those who remain.

Mike used to get hassle in the parks in the city before he moved out here to the suburbs.

He got a lot of grief in hostels also. He’s a tall, well-built man in his 20s, trailing an air of shyness or even vulnerability.

When he was a child his family moved here from England. He left his family home six months ago because he couldn’t get on with his old man.

“I’d like to get a gaff,” he says. “But at least it’s peaceful out here. Nobody hassles you.”

The men don’t suffer addiction problems and don’t appear to have any mental health afflictions.

This is notable only in that those who traditionally found themselves on the street, prior to the current crisis, often harboured afflictions other than getting a roof over their heads.

These days the inability of the State to house all those in need of a home leads to all sorts of life-changing issues.

For families, the impact of living in temporary accommodation can arrest the development of children in a multitude of ways.

For the men who live in their tents, removed from the immediate dangers of violence and associated problems on the street in the city centre, it can breed a type of apathy. None of the three is working (the fourth man wasn’t present on Wednesday).

They can draw job seeker’s allowance without presenting a fixed address, which is just as well when the number without an address runs into the thousands.

Some might observe this situation and demand that they get hunting for some work in an economy that is continuing to sprout jobs.

But how does one go from living in a tent, or a hostel, to securing, not to mind holding down, a job?

And for what end in the current renting environment? Would any work pay enough that they might be able to move into somewhere called home?

Peter is the only one of the three present who appears to be agitated about his current station.

He has some thoughts on the fragility of the world economy, which he believes is going to end up in another crash.

He is also the only one who has definite plans. “Once the next crash happens and rent comes down, I’ll manage to get a place,” he says.

He’d like to get back to work, but he’d prefer to get a place first and launch operations from there.

John and Mike just shrug. John is interested in keeping fit. He visits a gym regularly.

Mike says, “I suppose I would (like some work), but it’s alright here. We don’t get hassle.”

Another train rumbles by. Rain is falling now like a curtain over the dull day. A storm is on the way, but the men didn’t know about that, and they’re relatively happy that they will be well wrapped up. They’re young and don’t appear to have any health issues. Maybe this is a passing fad for them, or at least some of them. Or maybe this is a new reality for a new kind of underclass, where potential, hope, and dreams are smothered.

At least out here they don’t have to fear the sudden flaring of violence in a hostel, or on the street in the dead of night when most of us are at home.

The camp by the Luas is relatively secure by that basic yardstick.

It’s also a shocking indictment of society that such a place is now one of the better options for some refugees from this world of ours.


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