'I'm going back to the doorway of Penneys, to show how far I’ve come': Cork man to sleep on the street again for charity

Kieran O’Donovan is returning to his lowest ebb to see how far he has come. He tells Donal O’Keeffe about his journey from sleeping rough to getting his life back
'I'm going back to the doorway of Penneys, to show how far I’ve come': Cork man to sleep on the street again for charity

Kieran O'Donovan who will take part in the Big Rebel Sleep Out on Saturday pictured in Cork city centre. Picture Denis Minihane.

THIS Saturday night Kieran O’Donovan is sleeping rough on Patrick Street for Focus Ireland’ Big Rebel Sleep Out. The 33-year-old Knocknaheeny native says he wants to give something back to the charity which helped to save him from homelessness.

“I wanted to go back to my lowest point, to the doorway of Penneys, to show how far I’ve come thanks to Focus Ireland,” Kieran says.

On Saturday night, he will sleep on the street to raise funds for the homeless charity, and to remember the cold nights he slept rough, unaware that his heartbroken mother was watching over him from across the street.

“Addiction kills you first from within, making you soulless. Addiction left me on the side of the street begging.

“If not for Focus Ireland I would be dead today. I wanted to give something back.”

Kieran began to use drink and drugs in his early teens, and soon found himself in trouble, getting expelled, he says, from every school, and although he credits Don O’Leary and Brother Gary in the Cork Life Centre for getting him through the Junior Certificate, soon his drug use began to escalate.

“It got so bad that in 2012, my mother asked me to leave the family home, which I know was the toughest decision she ever had to make. I had left her no other choice. It was the life I was in. Day in, day out, drugs were my life.”

Kieran says he had burnt all his bridges, and no-one wanted him around. With nowhere else to go, he stayed in Ballincollig Park in a tent for months on end.

One day, while viewing a property in Wilton, he told the landlord the truth about his situation, figuring he had nothing to lose.

“Going out the door, that man slipped me a €50 note and told me get something decent to eat.”

The next day the landlord called Kieran.

“He said under one condition would he give me the apartment: that I go to college and he would pay all my fees. I enrolled in the College of Comm in 2013/2014 and I did the Leaving, but I slowly started drifting back to my old ways.”

Kieran says he can never repay that landlord, and he is on his list of people to whom he must make amends. In college, Kieran met the woman who would become the mother of his baby.

Amber was born in 2014, but the couple broke up.

“The real turning point was the day I first held Amber.

“I knew the life I was living was no good, and I knew I couldn’t give this life to her. I hadn’t a clue what to do. My life was so unmanageable.” Kieran began using homeless services, and his drug use spiralled.

“Before I knew it, I was begging on the street, and I was still completely in denial that I had a problem.”

From the hostel, Kieran’s rough-sleeping became more frequent.

“I was okay because I had the drugs. Nothing else mattered. I was always chasing, either chasing money, or chasing drugs. I was in a ball of pain.”

Kieran’s eyes shine when he talks about his mother.

“This is how much love my mother had for me, and this is something I only learned in recovery. When I was sleeping rough, my mother used to spend the nights on the streets, on the opposite side of the road, watching over me. That’s how much love my mother had and has for me.”

Richard Doran, an addiction councillor with the Arbour House Treatment Centre in Ballinlough, suggested Kieran go to St Helen’s Treatment Centre in Blarney for residential care.

“I was six months on the waiting list. To stay there, you have to stay clean. For me, recovery had started before, but really, I was only trying to play the system, because I didn’t really want to get clean. This time was different.

“It took me 18 months to get clean after Amber was born. I had no choice but to change. My daughter would have grown up hating me. The jig was up. I couldn’t keep going.”

Kieran spent 12 months in St Helen’s, “unravelling all the knots in my life”, and while there, he linked up with Focus Ireland, who work with the homeless. He says those meetings gave him a sense of purpose.

“I got myself a little job and started reintegrating into society, working the 12-step programme. That part-time job, I was made manager, and I’m doing well now. Focus Ireland gave me the final piece of the jigsaw.

“Focus Ireland gave me a home, a beautiful one-bed apartment. Amber has her toys there, and a little cupboard for her clothes when she visits. Amber is six now. On my bad days, she makes them good days. The power of addiction can come calling at any time, but she’s my reminder of what I have to lose. Who knows where I might be if she hadn’t come into my life?”

Kieran says he still has amends to make, but he feels he’s in a position now to give back. His advice to anyone struggling with addiction is: “If you’re heading down the wrong road, turn around. There’s a lot of help there. No-one is beyond saving.

“There’s always hope, and there’s always help.”

To contribute to Kieran's fundraiser for Focus Ireland click here

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