by Carl O’Brien
Henryk Piotrowski came to Ireland several years ago in search of a better life.
He left his friends and family behind in Poland. But alcoholism, coupled with poor job prospects and ineligibility for social welfare, left him homeless.
“He was a very pleasant, very nice man,” says Gerri McAuliffe of Trust, which has been supporting homeless people for decades in Dublin’s south inner city.
Rise in destitute foreign nationals seeking State’s help to go home
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“Henryk would come here about three times a week, usually with a couple of other men from Poland . . . He would have a cup of tea or coffee, get a change of clothes.”
Staff at Trust had grown fond of him over the past two years or so. But then last Friday came shocking news. The 43-year-old’s body had been found in a waste disposal facility.
He had been sleeping in an industrial-sized bin and ended up being crushed to death in a commercial waste pick-up truck. What made the circumstances of his death even more disturbing was that he had recently lost a long-term bed at a homeless hostel.
According to staff, he was staying at a homeless hostel – Frederick Hall – in Dublin’s north inner city which was set aside to provide stable placements for homeless eastern European migrants. However, Piotrowski and others received notice to quit last month when authorities decided to stop using the facility as a migrant-specific hostel. It is now being used as a emergency one-night facility for all homeless people.
While some migrants were found alternative accommodation, many who had the security of a long-term bed were left to find emergency beds on a daily basis.
It is unclear yesterday whether Piotrowski had been allocated an alternative bed, or whether he was left to find one.
At Trust, staff feel migrants like Piotrowski have been let down by a system which struggles to support these most marginalised members of the homeless community.
“For many migrant homeless, there is no stability,” says Alice Leahy, co-founder of Trust. “They’re often not eligible for social welfare and they can’t access mainstream homeless services, so they have to ring up a freephone number every day and there’s no guarantee of a bed.”
The Mendicity Institute and the Polish support group Barka, along with Dublin City Council, have been working over recent years to assist migrants to either return home or access detox and therapy.
But Leahy says she sees little sign of progress on the ground. She maintains that red-tape and invasive form-filling means many simply end up sleeping on the street or in squats instead.
“It’s not good enough to have to ring up every night for a bed. There are too many rules and regulations. People won’t link in with services.”