AFTER three weeks sleeping rough on the streets of Cork, a homeless couple bedded down outside City Hall last night.
The man, who is only 18-years-old, and his girlfriend, who is in her 20s, said it was the safest place they could think of – it offered safety, in the form of a garda station only metres away, and a bit of shelter.
At the moment, safety is the couple’s main priority. A few days ago they were sleeping rough outside St Patrick’s Church when they were attacked and robbed of their possessions.
“The night we were attacked, that was actually the only night in three weeks I think I was properly asleep. I’d normally be a little awake and kind of paranoid that something would happen, but I was so tired that I went into a deep sleep and when I woke up I heard shouting and then I realised we had been robbed,” said the teenager, who requested to remain anonymous.
His girlfriend, who also asked not to be named, said her bag was stolen and that she was kicked in the leg.
The couple say they have been approaching homelessness services every day for the last three weeks, but that all the emergency accommodation in Cork is full and they have nowhere to go.
Then they started sleeping rough, first outside St Patrick’s Church and now outside Cork City Hall. They say people in their current location have been nicer to them than others have been previously.
“A fella who works in City Hall came out and gave us tea. And tonight some councillors saw us and came over talking to us and they gave us food. But two weeks ago we hadn’t any money left and we had to go tapping on the side of the road with a cup. We were spat on, two or three times,” said the teenager.
“And the thing is, we weren’t looking for money to buy drugs. I just wanted a few euro to buy some food or a bottle of coke just to keep me going. A bit of sugar to keep my energy up.”
Sinn Fein Councillors Thomas Gould and Mick Nugent were among the public representatives who stopped to talk to the couple when they spotted them upon leaving last night’s city council meeting.
Cllr Nugent stayed with the couple while Cllr Gould went to McDonald’s to get them some hot food.
“Councillors regularly discuss homelessness at city council meetings, but this was a stark reminder of just how bad things have gotten,” said Cllr Nugent.
“Councillors are constantly told by the housing directorate that there’s a bed for everybody who wants one. A number of us have always been sceptical of that. This is evidence that this is not the case. The couple told us they had tried to get emergency accommodation and they were full."
“I know sometimes there are other issues going on that you have to take into account, but in terms of this couple, you have to take them at face value. They were sober, they were coherent, they were genuine. And this fella, he’s only 18 years of age and he looks younger. I think the councillors that saw this were almost lost for words - to see someone so young who was told there was no bed for him or for his friend. It was sad.”
Cllr Gould agreed, saying the Government has stated that there is a bed for everyone, but that “is clearly not the case”.
“I know some people have mental health issues and addiction issues, but some people are just very young and naive, and they’re just lost and there’s nobody there to help them. They’re three weeks on the streets and nobody has helped them,” said Cllr Gould.
“Cork City Council is spending five million euro on homelessness services. That’s the budget for 2017. And yet we had a boy and a girl sleeping outside the door of city hall last night. It doesn’t add up to me.”