On a recent Friday afternoon on North Lotts, a cobblestone street in the north inner-city, northwest of O’Connell Bridge, a young woman sits in a doorway, wrapped in a sleeping bag, preparing something in a pipe. She doesn’t want to talk.
At the end of the street, outside the Turkish Social Club and the Vieira gym and martial arts studio, a young man is preparing to use a syringe.
Inside the gym, Carrubla Ficanha, who owns the business with her husband, says she worries about her daughter, who is four years old, coming to her premises and seeing the daily open drug use on the street.
“It’s not just a government problem, it’s a community problem,” Ficanha says. “When you grow up seeing it, it makes it more normal.”
One day she saw a little girl aged around seven or eight years old, with two women who were injecting themselves, says Ficanha, standing on the matted floor of her gym. “I didn’t know what to do or where I can go to get help.”
Gardaí drive up and down North Lotts a couple of times a day, she says, and sometimes they walk it too. But she would like to see more social-work supports for people using drugs there, she says.
The issue of open drug use on back streets and laneways in the city is complex, says Tony Duffin, the CEO of the charity Ana Liffey Drugs Project.
The charity is working with the Gardaí and Dublin City Council to support people in the North Lotts area, Duffin says.
Meanwhile, Dublin City Council has had plans for the laneway for years. In 2018, it launched a report called “Re-imagining Dublin One”, which contained ideas to create a cultural and restaurant hub on North Lotts.
That was delayed due to Covid-19, but “it is in the intention of DCC to review this and other projects in the area in the coming months and to bring forward proposals in 2022”, says a spokesperson for the council.
On The Street
When Nuri Kara answers the door of the Turkish Social Club, his two primary-school-aged sons are with him.
The man holding the syringe steps back a bit.
Upstairs, the club has comfy leather sofas and large colourful wall hangings. A group of men are playing cards.
Some people who come to the club have had their cars broken into and a man died on the street recently, says Kara. “People are afraid to walk on the street.”
On the ground floor of the same building, Ficanha runs personal-training sessions and teaches boxing classes. “We opened it in 2017 and it wasn’t like this at all,” she says.
The street has gone downhill a lot, particularly since the pandemic hit, she says.
People have come and sat in the doorway of the gym to use drugs while she was teaching classes, she says. The gym was recently broken into so they had to build a wooden porch around their front door, she says.
While Gardaí pass through regularly, “I never see anybody on the street helping people,” says Ficanha.
Duffin says that the Ana Liffey Drug Project does offer support to people using drugs on North Lotts, but that they do so discreetly so neighbours might not notice.
“The whole point of our engagement is not to have flashing lights,” he says. “We proactively go down there and clean up and we engage with people who will engage with us.”
Many people using drugs in the street are not living in the area and they may not be homeless, he says.
People who have homes in the suburbs may buy their drugs in town, he says. “If you are in town and moving through town and you’re heading for home, you may not want to wait.”
In Sydney, Australia, the authorities set up supervised injection centres expecting that most of the users would be people in homeless accommodation, but a lot of them were housed, says Duffin.
Ana Liffey campaigned for supervised injection centres in Dublin and legislation passed in 2017, but no facilities have been opened. It is one thing that could help, says Duffin. “We need supervised injecting.”
Both Kara and Ficanha say that the problem of open drug use on North Lotts has gotten worse since the onset of Covid-19.
“Before people come and go, but it wasn’t as bad,” says Kara. He thinks that many of the problems emanate from a nearby hostel, he says.
Ficanha says she came across a man lying unconscious on the road one day and called Gardaí to help him.
The garda wasn’t that interested and told her he wasn’t a nurse, she says. But eventually, he helped the man into the nearby hostel, she says.
A spokesperson for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) said: “It is unclear to the DRHE why/how it can be specified that it is residents of the hostel that are engaged” in this behaviour.
The DRHE proactively manage safety around all their hostels, he says. The hostel has a “Good Neighborhood Policy” and residents of the hostel are familiar with the rules, which don’t permit loitering in the laneway, they said.
Staff regularly carry out “laneway patrols” and ensure the lane is clear of rubbish and drug paraphernalia, said the spokesperson.
“The DRHE and the HSE have joint responsibility to provide a co-ordinated and integrated response to delivering support services to the homeless population in Dublin,” they said.
“There are inreach clinics to support residents in the hostel and key working services are offered locally,” they said.
Re-imagining North Lotts
“Kara, of the Turkish Cultural Centre, says he finds it strange that the city authorities don’t seem more motivated to address problems on the street.
“It’s the middle of Dublin city, the city centre,” he says. Better lighting at night is needed and perhaps CCTV cameras too, says Kara.
Three years ago, Dublin City Council did draw up a plan that included ideas for how to improve the street, albeit one focused on the public realm rather than aiding those who use drugs there.
TheRe-imagining Dublin Onereport suggests that North Lotts could be transformed by asking the businesses on Middle Abbey Street and Bachelor’s Walk**, **which back onto the laneway, to also open their doors on that side.
It also suggests extra lighting and artwork and repurposing spaces to create outdoor dining for restaurants and cafes.
The Turkish centre and the Chinese Gospel Church are on North Lotts and, if it were revamped, the street, together with Liffey Street and Abbey Street, could become a hub for cultural and community activities, says the report.
“We see it as important that the many Asian and African people who live and work in the northern part of Dublin One are integrated more into the area and are encouraged to come Southwards and open up businesses, faith centres and schools,” it says.
In 2018, Sean Harrington Architects was involved in devising pilot projects to revamp five laneways in Dublin.
North Lotts wasn’t one of those looked at, but speaking generally, there are ways to improve back alleys and laneways in the inner-city, Harrington said.
Revamping laneways can happen in three phases, he says.
The first step is to improve the public realm. It should be well lit, regularly cleaned and have surfaces that are safe for all to walk on, he says.
“When you improve the look of the place and its usability it is more attractive to go down,” says Harrington.
The second is about enlivening the laneway, he says. By organising a temporary market, perhaps, or asking shops and businesses that back onto the laneway to open up onto it.
“Ground-floor premises that are currently boarded up, they could be let out temporarily,” he says. Cheap rent could attract tenants such as second-hand clothes shops or community groups, he says.
The third phase, the long-term plan, is to encourage people to live above the shops. “Eyes on the street are really important,” he says.
In nearly any other city in Europe, somewhere like North Lotts would be absolutely prime real estate, he says. “It would be exactly where you want to live.”
The key is to encourage suitable businesses that will work well with the residents, he says. Not nightclubs, he says.
Kara, at the Turkish Social Club, says that he heard at one stage there was a plan to open up North Lotts to the Moore Street traders. “It would be really good to have some traders on the street,” he says.