Margarita Rose Ryan was homeless for seven years. She says she is sad to hear that some businesses in Dublin are now making life even harder for people who are sleeping rough.
Dublin Ink, a tattoo parlour in Temple Bar, has installed sprinklers to deter homeless people from sleeping at the front of their premises.
“It is dangerous enough sleeping rough, with the risk of being attacked while you are asleep, and the guards kicking you to wake you up and move you on, not to mind getting soaked now as well,” says Ryan.
A small woman with dyed red hair, Ryan says life on the streets is hard and dangerous. She was a victim of an attempted rape while sleeping rough in Phibsborough, she says.
The sprinklers outside Dublin Ink are triggered by a motion sensor. They’re aimed at rough sleepers, but could wet anyone who stands under the shelter at their premises in Cow’s Lane. They have an area at the front and down the side of shop, with seats outside and the building above them starts above it providing a smalls sheltered area.
There were no warning signs to alert people to the sprinklers when we visited on Monday, but Dublin Ink staff said Tuesday they have now put up warning signs, as well as information about the Dublin Simon Community.
Shane Green, a staff member at Dublin Ink, says they’ve used the sprinklers in the past – and turned them back on a month ago – because of “six years of coming in to dirty syringes and having to clean up human faeces every morning”. Ultimately, “our priority is the well-being and safety of our staff”.
Dublin Ink has made numerous complaints to Dublin City Council about the issue of rough sleepers using the shelter in front of the shop and discarding hazardous waste there, Green said. He says the area needs consistent policing.
Life on the Streets
On a recent Monday, Ryan and her friend Peter Molloy were outside the Focus Ireland Café in Temple Bar. Ryan was recently housed after spending years homeless; Molloy is still homeless.
Molloy moves between rough sleeping and staying in emergency hostels or the sleeping mats in Merchants Quay. He is a big man, outgoing and talkative.
Molloy says that he knew two homeless men who used to sleep outside Dublin Ink, one of whom he thinks has now passed away. He says the sprinklers are a “disgrace”.
“They should just do what all the other businesses do and get you up and move you on when they come in in the morning,” he says.
Molloy says homeless people fair better in the Henry Street area, where he thinks businesses and staff are more friendly toward them, compared to in Temple Bar.
Businesses in the city are generally decent towards homeless people, although occasionally staff will throw a cold bucket of water over someone to move them on, Molloy says.
He says there is no need for this type of reaction, and that “99.9 percent of homeless people will get up and move no problem once they are asked to”.
However, staff at Dublin Ink say they were facing more than just people sleeping outside the shop each morning. They showed me photos of blood, vomit, and needles outside their premises.
When asked about this, Molloy said the men he knew wouldn’t have been the cause of this, because they weren’t drug users.
Molloy and Ryan said there are other premises in the city that target rough sleepers.
The fence at the back of the old motor tax office near the Four Courts is greased to stop homeless people from climbing into the backyard, Molloy said. “That means that if you were trying to climb up, you could fall backwards and split your skull open,” he says.
At the old motor tax office – River House on Chancery Street – earlier this week, each pole of the fence was covered in black grease near the top.
The fence itself is black, so people probably wouldn’t see the grease, especially in the dark. There were no warning signs up to let people know.
The owners of River House, Linders of Smithfield, said on Tuesday they were not aware of the grease and would look into the matter. (They hadn’t got back to us before deadline.)
Molloy says that after the grease was put on the fence, three homeless couples who had been sleeping in the back of the building started to sleep on the steps at the front. This area was then fenced off.
There is, indeed, temporary fencing around the steps at River House, but Linders’ agent was unable to confirm why it is there.
Like Molloy, Anti-Austerity Alliance Councillor Michael O’Brien says businesses installing sensor-driven sprinklers outside their premises is a “disgrace”.
“If anyone was to wander in there, they could get a soaking, but if it was a sub-zero night, and especially if you are homeless, that is really bad and potentially very dangerous,” says O’Brien.
Dublin Ink staff say the sprinklers are light and would not “soak” someone unless they stayed there for a long time. You can see a video of the sprinklers here.
In January of this year, the Independent reported that the Department of Social Protection was heavily criticised for installing “anti-homeless” bars at its offices in Gandon House on Amiens Street.
The OPW and the Department of Social Protection said a private landlord who owns the building was responsible for the modifications.
Following that controversy, O’Brien and Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne proposed a motion to Dublin City Council calling for building modifications targeting rough sleepers – known as “defensive architecture” – to be banned.
O’Brien says he was then advised by Dublin City Council officials that legislation is required at national level to ban these modifications, as an amendment to the Planning Act is required.
He is currently working on a bill to ban defensive architecture, which his AAA colleagues plan to propose to the Dáil in 2017.
O’Brien says there are many examples of defensive architecture around the city, including railings at Agriculture House in Kildare Street, where he works as a parliamentary secretary.
What’s the Solution?
According to Molloy, the solution is simple: to prevent rough sleeping, Dublin needs more hostels and more beds for homeless people.
Ryan and Molloy both think more beds are being closed at the moment than opened. But Mark Kennedy of Merchants Quay says that 200 new units of emergency accommodation are coming on line this weekend.
He says homeless people don’t want to sleep rough, and there is a desperate clamour of people trying to access beds every night.
Many businesses in the city are very kind to homeless people, he says, and keen to help by providing them with food and other assistance. “We would be advocating for a compassionate response,” he says.
Dublin Ink’s Green suggests that clean injecting areas should be provided in Dublin, which might reduce the hazardous waste that businesses encounter. (The government’s been talking for a while about doing that.)
But then there’s the issue of the human faeces Dublin Ink say they’ve had to clean up. The provision of public toilets in the city is another issue that’s long been under discussion.
So until the government steps up and does something about homelessness, drug-use, and the lack of public toilets, the sprinkler is the only way Dublin Ink staff can protect themselves, they say. They provided some photos to illustrate what they said they have to deal with on a daily basis in front of their shop:
Note: Nick Boyle of Dublin City Council’s waste-management division says staff there are trained and have the appropriate equipment, so businesses that find hazardous waste should contact them at 01 222 42 42.
[UPDATE: This article was updated on 19:50 on 8 December to include more of the photos provided by Dublin Ink to illustrate what it says staff deal with outside their shop.]