As many said goodbye to 2009 and rang in the new decade with hopes of better things to come, for two homeless men, 2010 was already looking bright.
Over the Christmas period ,Piotr Baran and Josef Pavelka have learned how good-natured the people of Clare really are.
Piotr, who is from Poland, and Josef, who is from the Czech Republic, are friends for the last two years and communicate through Russian. However, they share a bond through their experiences, as both have spent those two years living homeless.
As the freezing sub-zero temperatures set in before Christmas, local organisations and residents pulled together to see to it that Piotr and Josef were not left to the elements in such conditions.
Both were housed for a period in a vacant holiday home in Miltown Malbay for two weeks over Christmas and they have now been accommodated, in the short term, at Ennis’ homeless hostel Laurel Lodge.
Having secured a roof over their head and warmth, as temperatures remain low, the two friends would now like to extend a word of gratitude to those that helped them.
Speaking to The Clare Champion, Piotr said, “It is very, very important that we want to say thank you to everybody, every person who helped me and Josef, everybody.”
“The story is, before Christmas we lived in a tent. In Ennis we have friends, I don’t ask and Josef don’t ask but people give us coffee, tea, food and money and the Red Cross organised a place for us at Christmas time. The Red Cross give us two blankets and the tent and it’s not too bad. There’s no snow inside but there’s ice.
“The blanket has tin foil inside (hypothermia blankets), but the top of the blanket is ice. It’s not good. I wake up every hour because it’s cold. I’m shaking. I get up and walk and smoke, just to stay warm. Before the tent, to stay warm I was sleeping in prison and Josef was sleeping in a squat.”
Piotr speaks openly and frankly about having spent time in prison, he has ended up there on a few occasions – out of necessity.
“On November 20 I live in the prison, I am an ex-prisoner. On November 20 I have temporary release to December 23 and in that time I go to hospital six times. I’m tired now. I don’t want death. I am 33 years old. I want to live. I could live to be 50 or 70 years,” he says.
Having borne the freezing temperatures in the tent The Clare Champion asked if Piotr thought he would die there.
“If I’m not good in my chest I have a mobile so I ring 112 and I go to hospital. But there’s another problem, now I must go back and it costs €9 to get back to Ennis and I have no cash for a ticket. It’s not a big problem but it is for me,” he adds.
Piotr and Josef have been greatly helped by local woman Josephine O’Brien and her homeless organisation HELP and the two men expressed how much her help has meant to them.
“I tell you something that is true, Josephine said to me ‘I can help you but you can’t drink’. I drink again but I love her because she don’t care, after I drink she still helps me,” Piotr explains.
Asked what he thought would have happened to him if Josephine and others like her were not there to help, Piotr looks up, buries his head in his hands and emotionally gets out the words, “That’s a problem”.
“If Josephine tell me ‘Piotr get out – no more’ I think I would go to prison, you know because if I am homeless it’s cold now, so I don’t care I need to get out of the cold. I would go to a shop and theft so that the security could see me and so I would get arrested.
“But now I don’t want theft, I don’t want to go to Limerick prison. I want to start a new life. Stop drinking first, because that’s my problem; that is my big problem. We want to change our life. We lived in Miltown Malbay for two weeks and I drink nothing for two weeks and I don’t miss it, I watch TV. We want to change,” he reveals.
Piotr feels he and Josef need a new start in a different town or area because they know too many people in Ennis and too many people here know them. He feels this helps to lead them back to drinking.
“I would prefer a new start. Ennis is a good town the people are lovely people but we are sick,” he says.
Asked if they would consider returning to their home countries, Piotr stares blankly across the room and says, “There is no work at home. I have bad situation at home. If you give me a ticket now to go to Poland I would put it on fire. For Josef if he goes to the Czech Republic he has nobody, he’s homeless and there, homeless are like dogs”.
The two men are in difficulty as long as they remain in Ireland as they are not entitled to Social Welfare and are unable to avail of any services provided by State bodies. They cannot get on a housing list. They are not eligible to take up a place in the homeless hostel in Ennis and will only be able to stay there for a few more days.
Laurel Lodge manager Pat Cahill explains that the hostel is a short-term stay facility set up to help people live independently but the crux of it is that Piotr and Josef have no ability to move on and live independently.
“They fall outside our remit. How do we get them into private rented accommodation if they have no support structures and no money? They find themselves in unfortunate but bizarre circumstances. They have no entitlements. Being honest, I’m delighted that they are in here now. We’ve had a brutally cold winter and they are at awful risk but they can only stay short term. We will address any medical needs they have while they are here and the situation will be reviewed on a regular basis,” Mr Cahill adds.
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