At the age of 35 Bryan Kearney thought he was set for life. He had a job he enjoyed – as a driver with one of Ireland’s biggest construction firms – he’d bought a house, a car and lived in relative comfort.
Then – about two years ago, he was called in to the boss’ office along with a number of other drivers. The financial crisis that hit Ireland’s banks meant the company had to stop work on a number of projects. It couldn’t justify employing so many drivers and so those in the room were being let go.
Bryan was devastated. He tried to pick up work here and there, doing what he could to meet the bills, to pay the mortgage and keep the house. He worked long hours. The bank wasn’t sympathetic. Bryan knew he was in danger of losing his house – so he worked harder, put in more hours, took double shifts when they were available. He thought they’d see he was making an effort.
But he fell behind in his payments. The bank wouldn’t listen to any arguments and seized the house. With nowhere to go, he slept on the streets. He hoped it would be for a couple of nights, that he’d find something, even temporarily. Fourteen months later, he sits outside a clothes store on Dublin’s main shopping thoroughfare, Grafton Street. He has a paper cup where he hopes passers-by will drop some change. He has 55 cents. He’s been sitting for two hours. To many, he’s invisible, an inconvenience, another waster.
Bryan is a victim of Ireland’s collapsing economy: ‘I blame the politicians. They tell use they’re smart, they have all the answers. How did they not know what was coming’. He started the day in a hostel. ‘It’s rough but there’s a bed and some breakfast’. Then he walks the streets, looking for a spot to sit. He has a card. It says simply ‘I’m homeless. Please help’. Bryan enjoyed the days of the Celtic Tiger, the days when Ireland’s economy was the envy of many in Europe a long economic boom fuelled by growth in the construction industry. But when credit got tight, the banks pulled the plug on many projects, and thousands lost their jobs. ‘I made a good living. I worked hard. I bought a car, I bought my house and I thought it could last, but when I got laid off it was a big struggle. I know ten other drivers who lost their jobs that day and who have since lost their homes’.
It’s estimated there are around five thousand homeless people in Ireland at the moment. It’s a number that many charities say has shot dramatically in the last two years, since the beginning of the financial crisis.
All of Bryan’s possessions are now gathered in a sports bag. It doubles as his seat in the street and often his pillow. He never thought he’d end up homeless: ‘Why would I? You try to get somewhere to rent but when they hear your homeless they think you’re a beggar or a druggie and they slam the door. I asked Dublin City Council for help and they gave me a bus pass back to my town (outside the capital). I can’t be homeless there. There’s no shelter, no soup kitchens. It would kill me’.
His clothes are worn, and could do with a wash. They provide little protection against the fierce wind whipping down the street, and he’s not looking forward to winter: ‘When you’re on the street, it’s like you’re in a hole and you’re falling. And you keep falling and you hope you’ll stop. But you don’t. And it gets darker and you keep falling’.
Suddenly a big broad man, with a shaven head appeared and motions to Bryan to move :’This is my spot’ he says. Bryan shrugs and with no complaint gets ready to pick up his bag and move on. He waves and smiles and tells me ‘Good luck’. If I had any, I’d give it to him because he clearly needs it more than me.
He had no idea that Ireland’s government is currently the centre of international attention as it looks to bail out its banks, shore up the Euro, save its economy. For Bryan and many like him, the struggle for survival is much more basic. .