“I was lucky the gun didn’t break my head” – The Irish Times

Elias Adane doesn’t like to think about the moment when the claws of a vehicle’s mechanical arm broke through his tent three years ago, leaving him with catastrophic, life-changing injuries.

The slight, bright-eyed man, who is now in a wheelchair, gives a brief account of the incident, saying several times how “happy to be alive” and “safe” he feels now.

The 33-year-old from Eritrea arrived in Ireland in the early 2000s as an unaccompanied minor. Recognized as a refugee – he fled his homeland, he says, because he was threatened with conscription. He says he “liked Ireland when I came”.

“I stayed in a hostel – I got breakfast, dinner, lunch. After that, I became homeless,” he says.

Adane began smoking marijuana and later heroin. When he was injured, he also “sometimes” injected heroin.

He was sleeping in his tent near the Leeson Street bridge on the Grand Canal in Dublin on the morning of January 14, 2020. A clean-up by Waterways Ireland took place, during which numerous tents were cleared from the canal bank, some of which had been there for months.

“I was there almost three months when the ‘attack’ came,” he says. “I used to do drugs, heroin, so I liked this hiding spot I found. You know, when you do drugs, you have to hide. I had some heroin and was sleeping. I didn’t hear anything,” he says of the moments before the claw began raising his tent.

My bone is broken and now I have metal to stand. Without metal I’m on the ground. My body is on the ground

Reports at the time said staff from the Dublin Area Homeless Authority (DRHE) checked the tents before they were raised so they could offer advice and support on the accommodation services that were available to all residents. However, the tent clearance was an initiative of Waterways Ireland.

It is understood Adane’s tent was not opened but was “verbal checked” and no response was forthcoming. The worker operating the vehicle was given the green light to raise the tent. However, when it was lifted, Adane screamed and stirred, and his tent was immediately brought back to the ground.

An ambulance was called.

He describes the incident as follows: “When (it) hit me twice, they scream. It happened very quickly, it broke a bone. It was definitely… like a big knife, like a machine. It went into my body, the broken skin, the broken bones,” he says.

“I wasn’t picked up. I shouted. A social worker came and someone called the ambulance and I went to the hospital.”

He spent five months at St Vincent’s University Hospital and underwent a series of surgeries that placed screws and plates in his spine to stabilize it.

“My bone is broken and now I have metal to stand. Without metal I’m on the ground. My body is on the ground. I was lucky the gun didn’t break my head, but now I’m paralyzed from here [his waist] down.”

After being discharged from hospital he spent three months at the National Rehabilitation Center in Dún Laoghaire and from there was transferred to flat in Ballybough owned and managed by the Peter McVerry Trust as part of their Housing First programme. This provides shelter and comprehensive, ongoing support for people who have slept outdoors for long periods of time.


Francis Doherty, Director of Housing at the Trust, explains that his outreach team was asked by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to support Elias and they began that work two days after the incident – rapporting and explaining to him what Housing First was and how it could be supported.

It is understood Adane found it difficult to manage his tenancy in Ballybough. Drug users who knew him were frequent, unwelcome visitors.

“I liked being in the city, but it was noisy and there were a lot of visitors. Some were good, some bad. It was hard. They come often and one guy brought three or four visitors and I don’t like that. I’ll tell him to go out.”

He had been off heroin in the hospital and was on methadone, but abstinence was difficult to maintain under such circumstances.

In addition, he needs a lot of care. He cannot go to the toilet and needs regular enemas and a catheter bag. He needs help with self-care like dressing and is very susceptible to infections. He develops sores around his lower back related to the incident that he cannot feel, which can become severely infected and sometimes require hospitalization.

It was decided, says Doherty, that Adane would be better cared for and safer in a Housing First complex in north Co Dublin.

The disease is terrible. I can not sleep. i want to end it

Sitting in his bright, warm apartment, Adane says staff are on site 24 hours a day and he has groceries and meals delivered to him every day. He doesn’t like mealtimes, but has discovered Weetabix and eats “four bowls” of cereal a day.

“I like it here. It’s quiet,” he says of the complex.

When asked how he feels about the incident now, he again says he’s “lucky” that the claw didn’t paralyze or kill him more seriously.

“My family wasn’t happy. I’ll call her. I tell them I had a crash. They weren’t happy.”

His family, he says, are his younger sister Masresha, whom he has not seen since 2004, her husband and their two children. His parents aren’t alive, he says.

“My sister worked in Dubai for three years cleaning the house. She lives in Addis Ababa. So I think if I get money, I want to go visit quickly and come back,” he says. “I call her via WhatsApp.”

He shows a photo of Masresha with her children. “She looks like me, doesn’t she?”

He later says he would like to move to Addis Ababa. “I don’t have legs, so it’s better to be with family. I have to get money and yes, yes, I want to go to Ethiopia.”

Adane is still taking methadone – 80ml a day – and wants to stop. “The disease is terrible. I can not sleep. I want to stop doing that.”

He hopes to start a computer course in the summer.

He has a long scar on one side of his face, from the front to past his jaw. When asked if this was related to the canal accident, he says it wasn’t. “That happened at Burgh Quay. Some alcoholics came and went with knives on my face. I’m lucky they didn’t get my throat. They tried to kill me.”

Doherty agrees that Adane’s sleep experience over several years underscores how vulnerable people are in such situations.

“We keep saying it – the vulnerability of sleeping in a tent. We’ve always encouraged people to come into emergency shelter, at least so we can get them on the road to housing. We know people have their own valid reasons to resist it, but they will be safer and there are far better outcomes.”

Considering what Ireland offered to a former refugee child who was left homeless and eventually severely disabled, Adane is perhaps more forgiving than many would be.

“Ireland is a good place if you work, if you get a job. I made a mistake. I did the drugs, the heroin, and that’s what happened to me.”

However, he says that “someone should have checked [his tent] more”.

His civil case against Waterways Ireland and Dublin City Council is ongoing. Both declined to comment.

https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/social-affairs/2023/04/03/man-injured-when-mechanical-claw-lifted-his-tent-i-was-lucky-the-weapon-did-not-break-my-head/ “I was lucky the gun didn’t break my head” – The Irish Times

Dais Johnston

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