Friday, 3 April 2015

Finglas at Risk: Abigail Centre

Late last year we were all shocked to learn of the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie in Dublin city centre. So much so a cohort of well-meaning public servants and politicians rushed into actions that were blinkered with good intentions. Their aim was to get every homeless person of the street, and they wanted it done yesterday. While I admire this action and whole heartily agree that everyone has a right to a roof over their head, this kneejerk reaction has left casualties behind, as ill thought through plans came to fruition in recent months.
One such action was the opening of the Abigail Centre on Kildonan Rd. in Finglas. This Centre now houses in the region of 60 homeless women and is located on the site formerly known as St. Laurence’s, an old juvenile detention facility. It has become obvious since the centre opened in December of last year that a large number of its clients in the service can be described as chaotic drug users. At a public meeting in March locals described incidences of clients of the abigail centre sleeping in their gardens, having sex in cars, sex on the road side and in the adjacent park, used Needles were found on local football pitches and outside the community centre, clients of the Abigail centre have also allegedly been begging at locals door steps and urinating in public. Residents are genuinely scared and don’t feel safe in their own homes. I can’t balm them for that.
In the weeks prior to the opening of the centre in this residential area I raised a number of concerns in relation to existing issues with drugs and drug dealing in the immediate vicinity of the centre and how opening this centre in this location would put its vulnerable clients in harm’s way and the local community at risk. We needed to deal with the drug problem in our own community first. Due to the urgency surrounding homelessness at the time I was almost branded as anti-homeless for my commentary and the centre progressed with very little consultation with elected reps.
When I was 16 years old I had a part time job in Superquinn, Finglas.  One summer evening at 9 O’clock I was walking home with a bag full of goodies as I was heading away with a local youth group the next day. All of a sudden I was cornered at the end of my road by two drug users who held a syringe full of blood to my neck and demanded my phone and wallet.  This experience was shattering. I know first-hand what effect an attack such as this can have on person’s life. For years after I’d see drug addicts on the street or on the bus and I’d freeze inside. Personally, sympathy was something that was in short supply for my so called fellow citizens and my feeling was “they’re breaking the law by using drugs”, “lock them up”. I do believe that we need to be more proactive in relation to the drugs issue and on mature reflection and research I now understand that locking people up without the chance of rehabilitation and education doesn’t work. It creates a revolving door prison system. However, just as prison has been shown not to be the panacea for drug users, neither  in my view is stockpiling homeless people in large facilities in suburban Dublin without rehabilitation or education.
While as a society I accept we have a duty to offer help to drug users this should not be done to the detriment of communities that have struggled for decades and are still struggling with their own social and drug issues. Large volume homeless shelters in suburban Dublin is not the answer. Service must to focus on the needs of the drug addicts and realise that placing 60 vulnerable women, most of whom are on methadone, under the same roof as chaotic drug users is not the answer. In Finglas we have witnessed the effects of panic management of the homeless crisis and I am pleading with the authorities to find a better way that will protect both the vulnerable users of these services and the communities around Dublin that stand to be effected by these large scale homeless services. I don't want to see any young person in Finglas or any other part of Dublin subjected to the mental anguish that I faced following my attack.

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