The tragic death of a homeless Polish man in a Dublin waste bin highlights the increasingly problem of indigent foreign nationals in the Irish capital. Henryk Piotrowski, 43, was accidentally crushed to death when the bin he was sleeping in was picked up by a trash truck in the center of the city on Thursday. His mangled body was found when the truck was unloaded on Friday at a recycling facility. Little is known about Piotrowski’s life in Ireland, except that he came to the country a few years ago and had a drinking problem. Police detectives have notified his relatives in Poland. The Polish embassy in Dublin verified that Piotrowski came from Olsztyn, as city in north-eastern Poland.
As a Pole, Piotrowski was a member of Ireland’s largest ethnic minority group. Tens of thousands of his countrymen migrated to Ireland in the wake of European Union enlargement in 2004 attracted by plentiful jobs, particularly in the booming construction sector. The 2011 Irish Census revealed that 120,000 Poles resided in Ireland, a figure that doubled in just five years. However, the bank collapse of 2008 and the recession in Ireland have thrown thousands, including Poles, out of work and into the streets.
BBC reported that many people seeking help in Irish soup kitchens and welfare agencies are Poles who cannot apply for state social welfare due to residency rules, while many other are also afflicted by alcoholism. “For many migrant homeless, there is no stability. They’re often not eligible for social welfare and they can’t access mainstream homeless services, so they have to ring up a free phone number every day and there’s no guarantee of a bed,” Alice Leahy, Director of TRUST, a homeless service agency, told the Irish Times.
The Times noted that Piotrowski ended up in the streets after the homeless hotel he was staying in – Frederick Hall in Dublin’s northern inner city – kicked him and other Eastern European migrants out. A number of other foreign nationals who fell upon hard times have also died in similar circumstances, including a Czech man named Josef Pavelka, who died in Ennis, County Clare in May after living in a public toilet.
Father Peter McVerry, an activist for the homeless, told the Times that more and more poor migrants are ending up on Dublin’s streets. “They may be at that last stage where they have hung on all they can but now they’re really looking at a period of homelessness so they want to leave,” he said.
McVerry also blasted the poor social services available to migrants. “The Irish can get a bed for six months in a hostel and it brings them at least some stability. But the non-Irish can only get a hostel bed for one night at a time,” he stated. Alas, the Irish government has been repatriating many foreign nationals – in the first five months of this year, 153 destitute migrants were flown back to their native lands, versus 213 for all of last year.
Of course the financial collapse and resultant government austerity has been very hard on Irish nationals as well. A report in IrishHealth.com noted that “the dozens of people grimly laying out their blankets on Dublin pavements each evening are only the most evident aspect of a crisis that is also spilling out onto the streets of Cork, Waterford, Galway and other Irish towns. Emergency accommodation for the homeless is full to overflowing. Families are living in bed-and-breakfasts because there is nowhere else for them to stay. Unprecedented numbers of young people are living out of home.”
The Simon Community, a homeless outreach facility, estimates that Ireland has at least 10,000 homeless people sleeping rough on the streets, including more than 1,000 young people in Greater Dublin alone, as unemploymnet remains stubbornly high at 13.5 percent.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.