“It was actually a member of staff that saw it first of all,” says independent TD Thomas Pringle.
It was last Thursday, and she told him and he came outside, he says, and saw street-cleaning staff removing a tent from the pavement of Kildare Street.
The workers removed the contents of the tent and left them on the footpath, says Pringle, and then loaded the tent into an Aramark-branded van.
A Dublin City Council staff member later told Pringle that DublinTown, the organisation that represents and promotes city-centre businesses, has contracted Aramark for street cleaning services, he says.
He doesn’t think that any tents should be removed, he said on the phone on Friday. “These are people’s homes. It is sad that we are talking about that.”
A spokesperson for Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) says that cleaning staff, whether employed by Dublin City Council or DublinTown, only remove tents that are no longer in use.
“Tents are only removed when confirmed derelict by Dublin Simon Outreach Team,” said the spokesperson.
There’s a protocol to govern that, but it’s unclear what criteria are used to say whether a tent is derelict or not, and how many nights it should be empty for, before it is removed.
Those living elsewhere in tents in the city say it isn’t unusual to return to find that street cleaners have stripped away their shelter and whatever was in it.
What’s the Process?
In August 2021, DRHE said it couldn’t release details of how many tents had been removed in the Dublin City Council area in 2020 and 2021 up to that date. The record didn’t exist, it said.
But there have been bursts of media reports about tent removals for years.
In August 2017, two homeless men living in tents in the Phoenix Park complained to Dublin Live that all their belongings had been thrown out when their tent was cleared.
In January 2020, Waterways Ireland staff seriously injured a man, accidentally, while removing his tent from next to the canal. A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána said last week that they have sent a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In February 2021, DRHE removed nine tents from the city centre, eight of which had been recently occupied, according to the Irish Examiner.
Last summer, the chief executive of Dublin City Council, Owen Keegan said on Newstalk radio: “We don’t think people should be allowed sleep in tents when there’s an abundance of supervised accommodation in hostels.”
“We remove tents, it’s something we do. It’s not very popular but we do it because we don’t believe it’s appropriate,” he said.
A spokesperson for DRHE says they only remove tents that are not being slept in. Local gardaí reported “a derelict tent” on Kildare Street on Wednesday 25 May, said the spokesperson.
The DRHE contacted the Dublin Simon Community Outreach Team, which on Thursday “confirmed that there was nobody in the tent the night previously or Thursday morning”, they said.
“DRHE staff notified Dublin Town, who sent their waste management team to remove the derelict tent, under the ‘Safe to Remove Tent protocol’,” he says.
Council waste-management staff and the team employed by DublinTown only remove tents that are abandoned, he says.
“Tents are removed when the people using them have been accommodated, moved on, or are clearly derelict and a public health hazard, (e.g., exposed sharps, human waste etc.),” says the DRHE spokesperson.
A spokesperson for Dublin Simon Community said the role of its outreach team is “to engage with people sleeping rough and support them to access accommodation through a combination of advocacy, referral, administration and relationship-building”.
“Clarification on tent removal processes and procedures is not within the team’s remit and should be sought from the DRHE,” they said.
An Garda Síochána press office also referred questions to the DRHE.
DublinTown didn’t respond to questions submitted on Friday about what is in its contract with Aramark.
Dublin City Council, DublinTown and Aramark did not respond directly to a question about what training they provide for cleaning staff who have to remove tents as part of their work.
Pringle, the independent TD, said that if the quality of homeless services was better people would take up the beds and wouldn’t need to live in tents. “I don’t believe that anyone would choose to sleep on the streets.”
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says that if the tents need to be removed it would be better if that was done by Dublin City Council staff rather than subcontracted out to a private company.
It is a delicate business, she says, people could have valuable items left in tents. “Overall I don’t think that Dublin Town should have a role in this.”
On Friday afternoon, on the island in the middle of O’Connell Street slightly north of the General Post Office, homeless activist Thomas Shalas says that homeless people often return to find that street cleaners have taken away their tent and belongings without issuing any legal notice.
“They just literally take all their belongings and put it in the landfill. It could be a charger, a laptop,” says Shalas, who is living in a tent. “I think it’s a disgrace.”
Shalas chats to another man who is sitting inside one of a cluster of six tents on the island.
There are slogans written on the tents. “Explore modern Irish history,” reads one. And another: “287 homeless died.”
Shalas, one of the organisers of this protest, is wearing a sandy brown baseball cap and a red t-shirt and holds a small Jack Russell terrier.
He got together with some other homeless people to organise their tents together in O’Connell Street to highlight issues they face, he says.
Like how homelessness is now an industry, he says. “We want to reform this industry.”
Taxpayers should question where their money is going when they fund homeless services, says Shalas.
“There are people who work from their heart for homeless people,” he says. But there are others employed in the sector who “shouldn’t be around homeless people”.
The worst thing about living in a tent is not having access to toilets and running water, he says, but it’s better than sharing rooms with people you don’t want to be around.
Hostels have showers and washing machines for clothes, he says. “But people are not separated, someone is an addict or someone is clean.”
People with addictions have different needs from those who are sober and are trying to find a job or go to work, he says.
Shalas also has a small dog, so most hostels wouldn’t accept him anyway, he says.
Authorities should issue written notices if they want tent dwellers to move, he says, but they don’t always do that. “If they are really following the law they give you a notice,” says Shalas.
Gardaí have asked them to move from this spot on O’Connell Street several times, he says, but have yet to provide the paperwork.
“I have another tent outside of the city in a nice quiet area,” says Shalas. Gardaí asked him to move on from that spot, he says. “They were really polite guys.”
He told them that they needed to provide paperwork to move him on, he says. But so far, they haven’t come back with the notice, he says.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated to at 10.30am on 1 June to delete an incorrect line about the response from Dublin Simon Community to queries. Apologies for the error.]