Safekeeping for Rough-Sleepers

Stephen Murphy waits until the man has rolled up his sleeping bag, packed it into his large blue rucksack and walked away, before he goes over and picks up the cardboard.

The Dublin City Council worker cleans up lots of cardboard left by rough-sleepers, he says. His cart is full of it.

“The majority of them tidy up all their stuff and when I come along, if they are still there, they would throw the cardboard in themselves,” says Murphy.

But some of their belongings they don’t want to discard. “Most homeless people try to look after their stuff,” he says.

He often will give them a plastic bag to help keep their belongings dry. Some will hide their valuables around the city, and collect them later.

“If you have a look at the side of Bewley’s lots of them actually stuff their sleeping bags up there in the channel. If they are lifted up off the ground we won’t touch them,” he says.

While some homeless people in Dublin have rooms in hostels where they can sleep, others are on night-to-night beds or in doorways, making it hard for them to keep their belongings safe.

Being Robbed

On Dawson Street, Lisa Brady and her partner James almost always sleep in the same place outside the shopping centre.

Like others who sleep rough, they say they have struggled to get a place in the city’s hostels. They don’t want separate beds.

That’s not because they are too attached to each other to go in separately, says James. It’s more about what he sees as a lack of security in shared rooms.

“You are sharing a room with ten people, there are no doors, all your stuff gets bleedin’ robbed,” says James, a tall guy with red hair.

As he tells it, there used to be lockers in hostels for storing belongings, but they don’t seem to have them anymore.

A spokesperson for Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) said that all of their new emergency accommodation have lockers onsite. She didn’t say whether older accommodation was the same, or what those who weren’t in the newer hostels were supposed to do.

Near the shopping mall on Dawson Street, Murphy points out the cardboard near a bin, and a black bag hidden not far from there. “I know that is theirs so I’ll leave it there, I won’t touch that now,” he says.

Storage

Storage is a big issue for those who sleep on the streets.

The last official rough-sleeper count in November found 142 people sleeping rough each night. In the last quarter of 2016, around 246 other homeless people were in one-night-only accommodation booked through the DRHE helpline. That means calling on a daily basis, and being sent to different hostels each night.

(A spokesperson for Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said that “the majority of all current bookings are on a ongoing rolling basis and persons can leave their belongings onsite”.)

But some other cities provide complexes of lockers for homeless people where they can store their valuables, or a clean change of clothes.

In San Diego, a “transitional storage centre” was set up in 2011, after the city had to pay a settlement for wrongfully taking the belongings of homeless people and destroying them.

They have 400 storage bins for people living on the street, said Anne Rios, who works for Think Dignity, the homeless charity that runs the place.

“Most importantly, it means that things that are irreplaceable such as pictures, mementos, family heirlooms are able to be kept secure,” she said, by email.

Rios says they have helped 100 people to transition out of homelessness, and they have a budget of around $120,000 a year.

“Having the ability to safely store personal possessions allows those that are living on the street to attend medical appointments, recovery and rehabilitation programs, school, look for housing, take a shower, find a job,” she says.

“It also means that things such as their social security card, their birth certificate, and ID card are all safeguarded,” she says.

Back in Dublin, John Donovan, a grey-haired man with a big beard, thinks that lockers are a great idea.Donovan says he has a place in a hostel now and can store his belongings there, but he used to be on the streets.

“You had nowhere to put anything so you couldn’t have any stuff,” he says. When he became homeless, he lost all his books.

“I had a big collection of books, novels, and true-life stuff and history,” he said. “I’d love to have hung on to them.”

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