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Homeless man seriously injured when his tent was swept away in cleanup

Posted January 15, 2020 12:06 p.m. EST

— A homeless man is in a serious condition in a Dublin hospital after the tent he was sleeping in was picked up by an industrial litter-clearing vehicle.

The unnamed man was injured when workers from Waterways Ireland, the body responsible for maintaining Ireland's rivers and canals, cleared a walkway along a canal in the Irish capital.

"A man (age unknown) was sleeping in his tent when it was being removed in an attempt to tidy the canal walk way," local police said in a statement. "The man received injuries during this incident and was removed to St. Vincent's Hospital where he remains in serious condition but stable."

According to Dublin City Council, the incident happened on Tuesday afternoon, when workers "were removing tents that were placed in a precarious and dangerous location."

Local media reports suggest the vehicle had a mechanical arm that removed the assembled tents by lifting them up and placing them in a truck for disposal.

A spokesman for Waterways Ireland said the body is "cooperating fully" with police investigating the incident, adding that "our thoughts are very much with the individual who was involved."

According to homelessness charity Focus Ireland, the most recent data show that there were 10,448 homeless people -- 6,696 adults and 3,752 children -- across Ireland in the week of November 18-24, 2019.

The number of homeless families has increased by over 300% since November 2014, the charity says.

Homelessness is set to be a key issue during campaigning for February 8 general election.

Speaking on the campaign trail, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: "My understanding is that Dublin City Council and Waterways Ireland did check the tents before removing them. But, obviously, something went wrong here."

The incident has led to calls for an independent investigation from homelessness charities and lawmakers.

Brian McLoughlin, head of communications for the charity Inner City Helping Homeless ( ICHH) in Dublin, told CNN: "We are disgusted by the actions of Waterways Ireland and Dublin City Council for the inhumane removal of a man's tent from the bank of the royal canal in Dublin as he slept in it yesterday afternoon.

"The man remains in hospital where he has suffered life changing injuries from the machine used to remove his tent as he slept. We cannot understand how someone could remove a tent, the man's home with all of his belongings, without first checking if anyone or anything was inside the tent."

McLoughlin told CNN that homeless people sleeping in tents has become an increasingly common sight in the city as homeless services rely on "one night only hostels where people go in at 10pm and have to leave at 7am."

He added: "There are huge safety and security concerns in these hostels so when people have a bad experience in them they can then choose to sleep in a tent as they feel safer. "

Eoin Ó Broin, who was a lawmaker with the opposition Sinn Fein party until parliament was dissolved Tuesday ahead of the election, called for an investigation into the incident, saying in a statement released to CNN: "The incident as reported by the media that occurred yesterday lunchtime is shocking and I do not understand how it could have happened."

Dublin City Council said in a statement that "the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive is currently liaising with the hospital and every support is being provided."

It continued: "Our thoughts are with the man at this time. The Executive has been engaging with the individual for some time and accommodation remains available to him.

"Every action that is taken by state services is taken in the interest of health and safety of those individuals experiencing homelessness," the council said. "The matter is currently being investigated by the Gardai (police) and there will be no further comment."

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