After a week where temperatures dropped to freezing lows during the nights, around 250 people sat down to a warm dinner for Dublin’s homeless community, organised by volunteers inside the GPO.
The annual dinner, known as Eric’s Party for the Homeless, was organised by the voluntary group Dublin Lions Club.
The night saw plate after plate of stew or chicken cooked by staff from the Defence Forces dished out to guests.
One of the guests, Ian McLeish (74), said the dinner was a great opportunity “for meeting people” and catching up with old friends.
“I was homeless originally, Nama took the house of my landlord, I was there for 27 years and the banks put us all out,” he said.
Afterwards, aged in his 60s, he was provided a home in Rathmines by the Iveagh Trust housing charity, he said.
The annual dinner was important, he said. “You meet people and you find out how they’re getting on and see if you can help them.”
John Sheehy, a volunteer with the Dublin Lions Club, which runs various community projects helping different groups, said about 400 dinners had been prepared for the night.
“Everyone seems kind of hungry tonight, we’ve already had five people on seconds. The warm food has been really well received. It is a cold evening out there,” he said.
“As huge as temperatures drop, you know, it’s okay for all of us to go and close the door and put the radiator on, but if you’re out and about on the streets today, to come in and have warm food is pretty nice,” he said.
Live music was provided by trad band Rake the Ashes, who got several women up dancing to Step It Out Mary, followed by a rendition of Monto, a classic from The Dubliners that got the crowd singing.
Tom Mooney (81), who lives in a flat in Dublin, said he was a “loner” who had been coming to the annual dinners for as long as he could remember. The nights were a nice opportunity to socialise with people over food and music, he said.
“They’re nice dinners, it had to be cancelled because of the Covid… I missed it, I missed dancing, I love the music,” he said.
Rosita Apaza, who is undocumented and has been homeless in Ireland since she was 15 years old, said events like the Lions Club dinner “bring you hope”.
There was a strong “community spirit” among the homeless in Dublin, she said. “We know that this is one solid [night] once a year where we can gather and relax, effectively,” she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic was difficult for people who were homeless, as Dublin city centre largely shut down. “There was literally nothing, you would spend the day walking, walking, walking,” she said.
Ms Apaza, who is originally from Peru, said she had applied to a Department of Justice scheme to regularise undocumented migrants, but it was a “long process”.
She said she was currently staying in emergency homeless accommodation on a night-by-night basis.
“There’s just a cycle of you get somewhere, you get safe, you get secure for a little while and then it all collapses, and you rebuild, rebuild, rebuild,” she said.