Friday, March 25, 2011

Thing 344 Sleep Rough

There's nothing funny about this blog. Just warning you in advance. There are no cute jokes or self deprecating remarks. This was, and I think will almost certainly be, the worst Thing I've done since the start of The Project. It was disturbing, and honestly, a little bit upsetting.

I left The Sluggary at about half seven in the evening, the plan being that I could take only what handful of change I had in my pockets, a sleeping bag and a phone for emergencies, and I wasn't allowed back until ten the next morning. I dressed in some old dirty clothes for effect. I thought I was setting off on an interesting adventure, and I'd have loads of funny stories of drunk students and public disorder to tell about. Not quite.

I sat on Thomas Street for an hour, during which time three people that I know, and talk to regularly walked right by me. Within five feet of me, and didn't see me. They saw a homeless person, they looked away as they passed, they did not see me. After an hour and a half I got anxious to talk to someone, and there was a group of scumbags down the road watching me, so I moved on.

Stopped outside Arthur's Quay and sat on an electricity box. Had nowhere to go, so it seemed as good a place as any. A security guard came out. "Move on there buddy". But I'm not doing anything, I'm just sitting here... "I said move on, so get going..." Why? I'm just sitting here like... "I told you to move on, so fucking move on". I moved on. I was literally doing nothing but sitting there.

On the way back up the road another homeless guy intercepted me and told me there was drinking in the park, and I was welcome to join him and his mates. I was glad of someone to talk to, but too afraid to go. I went and bought some cider and sat with the unopened bottle on Catherine Street, just watching people go by. Another two people passed who I know well. Neither of them saw me.

In the next hour or so, five different homeless people stopped and shared a bench with me. I lied to them and told them that I wasn't from Limerick and had nowhere to go. We talked about this and that, and shot the breeze. One of them shared a couple of cans with me. I was so pleased to talk to someone that I didn't refuse the cans, and we sat there just chatting about how hard life is for twenty minutes or so.

At this point I started feeling like a fraud. I could go home any time I wanted. None of these people could. I stayed out anyway. Went for another walk. Thus far the highlight of my night was just having some company. A man walking by stopped me, gave me a cigarette and stuffed three euro into my hand. Told me he was sorry for my troubles. I tried to refuse the money, but he insisted. He was the first non-homeless person to speak to me, who wasn't telling me to leave the electricity box I was sitting on.

I settled back on Catherine Street and met Danny. He's homeless, and if I'm being honest, a bit frightening looking. His face is scarred, his teeth ruined, and he's got an intimidating manner. When he goes begging for cash, he gets right into people's personal space, and leans in to look them in the eye. People don't like it, and most people brushed him away and kept going. One charmer told Danny to go fuck himself, and then spat in my face as he went by.

By now the whole "adventure" thing was a memory. I was a little frightened, and the only people I wanted to talk to were homeless people. I had spit on my face. Danny told me he'd look after me, and show me the ropes. He brought me from place to place, showing me his favourite spots for begging. Promised to share everything we made fifty-fifty. The feeling of guilt at being a fraud was getting to me. As he walked, he kept an eye out on the ground for cigarette butts that weren't smoked all the way down. He collected them, and when he needed a smoke he'd take one out and light up.

Two more people helped out: One of them was a woman who, when asked, told us she'd no cigarettes. She stopped into a bar, bought some cigarettes, came back out and gave us one each. If I didn't think it would frighten her, I'd have hugged her. Just the gesture alone. The second one was a guy I actually know. He didn't recognise me, but I spotted him collecting from his mates outside the bar, and handing a lump of change to Danny as he left.

We walked to the river. Danny sprinted off as a Garda van drove passed where we were. This made me more nervous. We drank my cider, and Danny's cans and walked from place to place all night, him collecting money and cigarettes, me sitting on the ground. We were shouted at routinely by people.

Just after half three, I handed Danny the money I'd been given earlier, took my sleeping bag from its hiding place, went to the side of the Franciscan Church and curled up to sleep. I was freezing. Before I left Danny, who was now gone so aggressive that he shouted abuse at people who wouldn't give him money, he asked had I any smokes. I told him no. He dug into his pocket and took out his stash of unfinished cigarettes. He pushed them into my pocket and told me to sleep well.

It might be one of the nicest gestures I've ever received. I felt horrendously guilty.

At just after half six, a street cleaner woke me to get out of his way. I was half asleep and didn't know where I was for a minute or two. He scowled at me. I shuffled off. For a little while I wondered about, killing time until I could go home. At about eight I couldn't take it any more, and I walked back to The Sluggery.

I did not have an adventure. I felt like shit. I had a shower, and the guilt of knowing that I had a double bed and an en suite of my own, a deck down stairs and a fifty inch television, it made me feel like crying.

There's nothing romantic about being homeless. It's despair and isolation, no identity and abuse. I couldn't do it for one night, how do people live like this every day? People will tell me I'm too pampered, and they're right, I am. I've had it too soft for too long, but I don't think there's anyone with a roof over their head who could even try to understand. Myself included.

It's weird. I wish I'd never done it.

Told you it wasn't going to be funny.

27 comments:

  1. Jeez Dan, I think that's the best entry yet.

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  2. Great "thing" to do! Definitely the best one yet!

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  3. What about a wee online fundraiser for your mate Danny. Loads of people love your blog - I'm dead sure they'd give you a few quid - I'm in xox

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  4. My friend Amanda is also in!

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  5. This is by far your best Thing yet.

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  6. ...definitely agree with other posts, well done

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  7. great post, yr experience and feelings really come across of what it was like, and you had a home to go home to, not like those you met

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  8. Nice one Dan.

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  9. Heartbreaking Dan, actually felt guilty, tearful an maybe a little sick in myself reading this. This is the kind of post that Radio should be covering. Amazing to think about the generosity your received from those that don't have anything.

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  10. So - is that it ? Can we change anything ?

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  11. regenbogenschnecke@web.deMarch 27, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    hi dan, i admire your courage! thanks for sharing this experience with us.
    take care, kirsten

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  12. Well all, many thanks for the feedback. My birthday and the final day of the Project is April 14th, I'm having a shindig at O'Connell's/Old Quarter here in Limerick. It's not a private party, all are welcome. I'll have some buckets around the bar for anyone who wants to throw some change in for Focus Ireland, they work with the homeless. I'm going to look at a fundraiser in May as well. Feel free to pop along, drink and throw in what you can.

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  13. my friend fancies the pants off you and she really wants to go to that shindig!! but she only likes tall guys: how tall are you?

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  14. Haaahahahaaaaaaaa!!!
    How tall ARE you Dan?
    And has Snow White started paying rent yet?

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  15. Hahaha. Not tall is the answer to that question.

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  16. You're a brave man, and a decent one too. Great writing.

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  17. That wasn't funny, but a real eye-opener, and it is definitely your best post yet.
    (hello to token northy)

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  18. That brought tears to my eyes.........poor buggers, Excellent blog, I agree, your best yet

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  19. super, dan, and love the follow up fund raising initiatives too. I really loved this Thing, and i admire how you told the story with honesty, without patronizing those you met or judging those who didn't see you. super writing, hopefully see you on the 14th, and be sure and let me know about any further fund raising x

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  20. Your best yet Dan, we've so much to be grateful for and can't see it. Fair play for doing it. I don't think I cud have

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  21. A great read. You're a brave boy! Emma :)

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  22. well done dude, great idea, you should use this entry as a means of fundraising, very moving and eye opening! Kev

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  23. Novas Initiatives provide a soup run 3 nights a week to anyone who's sleeping rough in the city. They also do street counts were they go out about at 3.00am searching for people who might have been missed or don't know of services available.

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  24. possibly novas initiatives should be incuded inn proceeds from a fundraiser, they do great work with homeless people that other services turn away. Well done to you and would be very interested in a fundraiser!!

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  25. Incredible Dan. Some achievement!

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  26. 'and there was a group of scumbags down the road watching me, so I moved on'

    You're writing a post preaching about how stereotypical people are towards homeless people, then you write about scumbags...???

    'but I don't think there's anyone with a roof over their head who could even try to understand'

    Very simplistic though process.
    Such a badly written article.

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  27. Hi There, I stumbbled across your blog, as I am in the middle of doing my "new things project" for the year 2012... so I am only 12 days in. What an inspiration you have been... this is an intense thing you've done and I wish I had the courage to do... however being a girl, I think it might be a bit too dangerous... i salute you and congrats on your finish.

    cheers, gabi.

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