RTE investigation exposes harsh realities of homelessness.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Geneva Pattison.

On Monday the 18th of January, RTE aired an RTE Investigates documentary highlighting the in depth struggles of individual homeless people during the year of 2020. The troubling new documentary follows the lives of 20 year old Dan Orlovs, 39 year old Natalie and Carlow man Joe Nolan who in his late 50’s.

Dan is a young man, but we learn that months of sleeping rough, with only carboard as insulation, has damaged his legs. We learn that he has struggled in his life up to this point, having arrived at the age of 10 in Ireland with his mother having little to no English. At 15 he was forced to leave school when the landlord decided to sell the apartment he and his mother were living in. Around this time he also became estranged from his mother and spent the following 4 years sleeping on friends’ couches. In June 2020, he left Kildare and found himself homeless on the streets of Dublin.

Dan states in the documentary, that for the first few weeks of sleeping rough in Dublin, he refused to beg. However after a a while he had no option. He said, “I’m sleeping in a doorway. I’m not washing myself. It’s no harm … and then I started begging.” While living on the streets, Dan developed a painful mouth abscess and with no access to adequate pain medication or medical assistance, he started to smoke to heroin.

RTE spoke to 80 people sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters and found that some had been living like this for months and some for years. A survey was taken by the RTE investigates team, which found that 48% of the people surveyed were not addicted to drugs before becoming homeless.

39 year old Natalie, has struggled with heroin addiction since she was a teenager. The documentary reveals she has been living in a tent near the Grand Canal for several months. When asked by the investigator, what having a place to call home would mean to her, she replied ” look around … it would change my life immensely, no words can explain it.”

Natalie’s mental health has been severely impacted. Having already tried to stay in hostels, she feels safer sleeping on the streets. Natalie explained what her experience in hostels has been like, she says, ” you should feel safe, but you can’t. From being mugged to being attacked, people pushing drugs on you.”

Another section of the investigative survey was conducted with participants living in hostels, to gauge their personal experience. Of those surveyed, 55% had issues with privacy in the hostel, 53% had issues with noise levels, 23% had issues with staff and 22% with the level of cleanliness in the hostel.

Joe Nolan has been homeless since 2011, when he left prison after serving time for dealing drugs. At the point of filming the documentary, he had been sleeping rough in a carpark for 18 weeks.

Joe rang the emergency accommodation line for Dublin, looking for a bed for a night. He was told by an accommodation operator that he should go back to Carlow, as he was last registered as living there and that they couldn’t do anything for him in Dublin. The operator soon hung up on him. On that night Joe called, there were 75 free emergency beds in Dublin.

A homeless man wishing to remain anonymous, was also filmed ringing the emergency accommodation line and again was denied help because he wasn’t from Dublin.

On November 26th 2020, it was reported by the Journal that there were “more than 52” deaths of homeless people at that point in the year, as quoted by Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin. 

After the airing of the RTE Investigates documentary, there was an outcry on social media from the public. People were particularly shocked by the treatment Joe Nolan received over the phone when asking for help, calling it “disgusting” and “disturbing”. To read more of what the public had to say, visit the #RTEInvestigates hashtag on Twitter.

The documentary, is now available to watch on the RTE Player and is viewable through the link below.