When you live in a city from day to day you often don't see the issues as clearly as people with an outside view. When it comes to Dublin many of us tend to look at the city through rose tinted glasses especially recently with the sun shining and the cherry blossoms out. I've had three conversations with people who don't live in Dublin in the last month (a business partner from the UK, a family who rented my house on Airbnb and a friend up for the day from Cork) where they were all stunned at the amount of drug addicts, drunks and beggars on the streets of Dublin. It wasn't just a throwaway comment either but pretty much the first thing they said when I asked them were they enjoying their stay in the capital and their sentiments were incredibly negative.
The city centre of Dublin has a major problem when it comes to it's image and although us Dubliners have grown used to it we need to address it, open up the debate and get some action to fix it.
Ruining The City Experience
You really notice the problem our city has with begging when you stand outside somewhere like Grogans having a smoke with your pint late at night. It wouldn't be unusual to get asked by 3 different people for spare change within 60 seconds. Every Luas stop I use on a regular basis (St Stephens Green, Jervis Street and Middle Abbey Street) all have a constant stream of people hanging around asking every single person buying a ticket for change. It isn't unusual to see multiple beggars competing for your attention asking for change at the different machines
When I lived in Smithfield I used to prefer walking home rather than taking the red line Luas. Even though it was a 30 minute walk i'd way too many bad experiences to justify using it. Even the quickest twitter search shows Dubliner's have very little good to say about the Red Luas line.
Large parts of our city smell of piss, are littered with the remnants of addicts and make people watch their backs on a regular basis (off the top of my head some of the alleys around Grafton Street, Amiens Street, Pearce Street, Camden Street, Temple bar, Middle Abbey Street, Oconnell Street and Marlborough Street are just a handful of the worst affected). I could name hundreds of locations but this is a city centre problem. The main reasons for the this include...
- Many of the drug treatment centers are located in the city center (this is very unusual when compared to other cities)
- Light touch policy from the Guards (what can they do?)
- Lots of social housing is extremely close to tourist areas (just off St Stephens Green, Parnell street, Amiens Street etc)
This Isn't The Addicts Fault
I've never had a heroin addiction but I can't imagine it is particularly nice thing to have to deal with. The harsh reality is that it happens to people on the margins of society. With the economy imploding over the last few years and every type of budget being squeezed things have been getting worse but you'd be foolish to think this problem hasn't been around for decades in Dublin. With the economic pressures, less work and the emergence of Crystal meth in Dublin (read about it online or watch breaking bad to see how this drug makes Heroin addiction look like a walk in the park in comparison) things are only getting worse.
You can't however lay any of the blame at the door of the addicts in our city. They are part of the system that is so flawed. You can hardly expect them to stop taking drugs, read the paper politely on the Luas and head out to live in the suburbs. These are people who need help and if you get them a solution it not only makes their lives better but also helps make the city a cleaner, safer and less scary place for everybody.
How Do You Fix This?
Well first of all you don't sweep it under the carpet and ignore it as it has been up until now. While there is a ton of good stuff happening in our city I don't really see a bigger problem than this right now. You could argue that our transport is pretty shocking, people don't have money to pay water charges and a whole host of other social issues but nothing can be more important than addressing this. 100s of people with serious life threatening issues wandering the streets with no hope and a shocking and scary experience for tourists and people coming in from the suburbs. Some simple steps we should be looking at...
- Get proper funding in place. If it takes 50 or 100 million Euros to fix this problem then just sort the money out and get it done. Its hard to find cash these days but maybe we could skim 100 million off a motorway project like this (of course we need better roads but we could live with a slightly downgraded one to fix something as important as this maybe?)
- Put one person in charge of this. Our city has over a million people living here. We welcome millions of tourists. 100s of people are sleeping rough, committing crime and making our city a scary place as a result. That sort of problem won't be sorted through management by committee. It needs one person.
- The guards don't seem to care or have no incentive to deal with the issue. Moving people on or telling them off isn't a deterrent. Give them proper powers and if that means a zero tolerance approach then so be it. This only works if there is funding and places for these people to go to get treatment which there isn't at the moment.
- Move proper treatment centers out to quieter parts of the city
You'll find lots of articles about this online but there never seems to be action. My own foreign friends said despite the great food, emerging cafe culture and friendly locals it would put them off coming back. We have a problem that needs to be addressed but from what I can see seems to be getting totally ignored and just getting worse.
Do you see the same problem and what would you do to fix it?