Brief and sobering funeral for Dublin’s homeless

Without family and with little ceremony, the funerals of five men – either homeless or known to homeless services – are taking place in Dublin this week.

Paid for by the Dublin Coroner’s Office and lasting less than five minutes each, the burials took place early in the morning at Dardistown Cemetery.

They come amid renewed calls for ‘critical incident’ reviews of homeless deaths to examine any gaps in the services they have engaged with and whether the deaths were preventable.

At 8:40 a.m. on Tuesday, Polish nationals Miroslav Sierakowski (36) and Robert Matacz (47) were buried together in a plot reserved for what is called “contractual funerals”. More than 30 such burials have taken place in Ireland in the past two years, with the graves flanked by unmarked headstones.

Father Eoin Thynne, invited by Trust founder Alice Leahy, said Mr Matacz had “many jobs”, including as a delivery driver and factory worker before becoming homeless. Mr Miroslav, he said, had “a great sense of humor” and was “extremely courteous”.

Representatives from homeless charities, the Order of Malta and the Mendicity Institution, as well as Ms Leahy, were present.

Mr. Matacz died at the Mater on June 10 of “natural causes”, the coroner’s office said. He said an inquest into Mr Sierakowski’s death would take place “in due course”. He died in St James’s Hospital on October 21.

Mr Sierakowski spoke to The Irish Times in December 2018, saying he had been in Ireland for two years and previously worked with a wholesaler. After being hospitalized for a long time after an operation, he lost his job and then his rental room. One of his biggest struggles, he said, was his inability to get enough sleep on the streets or in hostels. He hoped then that his participation in a community employment program would help him get back on track.

At 8.20am on Wednesday, the funerals of Gheorghita Ghiba (47) from Romania and Anthony Turner, from Rathfarnham and whose age is unknown, were attended by just four gravediggers and civilian celebrant Gearoid Ferrick.

Mr Ghiba was found dead on May 24 at Wolfe Tone Quay in Dublin. An investigation will be held “in due course”.

Mr Turner, who was not homeless but used some catering services provided by homeless charities, died on May 12. Mr Ferrick said he would also attend the funeral on Thursday of Thomas Mullen, from Dublin 10, in the same plot.

‘It’s so sad’

He described his role as “bidding them a final farewell and wishing them good luck and eternal rest”.

“It’s so sad,” he said. “These men were babies of certain mothers and regardless of their life stories, they were loved.”

A spokeswoman for the coroner’s office said the burials took place months after the deaths because “it can take time to establish details of family and next of kin.

“We need to do our due diligence before the burial takes place.”

The office “arranges and is responsible for payment of certain funerals” where families not residing in Ireland are unable to arrange for the repatriation of remains, or where family cannot be found to arrange a funeral.

In his report on mortality among the homeless, published last year, Dr Austin O’Carroll, founder of Safetynet, called for the establishment of a “critical incident analysis framework” to examine each death of a homeless person and to learn from them, and for “five-year reports on trends in mortality”.

Its recommendations have been taken up by the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Safeguarding Ireland “to try to learn from what has happened with a view to improving services”.

A spokeswoman for the Dublin Area Homeless Executive said that although it recorded deaths among the homeless, it did not examine the circumstances. He is cooperating in a pilot study of homeless mortality conducted by the Health Research Board. The 2019 death study aims “to better understand mortality” among the homeless population, a council spokesperson said.

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