By Emma Batha
DUBLIN, March 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Dublin's Phoenix Park boasts the official residence of Ireland's president, but for a while it was also home to Eddie Dooner who lived there in a tent with three dogs.
Dooner, 27, plans to return to his old haunt soon, but this time he will be leading a party of tourists under a scheme which trains the city's homeless as tour guides.
Ireland is in the grips of a housing crisis, with homelessness topping a record 10,000 people, according to housing charities.
My Streets Ireland — one of some 1,400 social enterprises in the country that tackle social and environmental problems while also making a profit to reinvest in their missions — aims to give homeless people new skills and an income.
Enthusiastic and articulate, Dooner is keen to dispel the stigma of homelessness while showing off his home city.
"I want to change people's views," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a walk around the capital.
"Just because you're homeless doesn't mean you're a bad person — you still have a good heart."
The tours, launching mid-March, come at a time of booming tourism in Dublin, which attracted an estimated 6.4 million overseas visitors in 2018, according to the tourism authority.
The guides will get 50% of the ticket sales with the rest ploughed back into running the project.
Director Austin Campbell said he helped set up the scheme after becoming frustrated at the lack of opportunities for homeless people.
"We want to humanise the issue," he said. "This gives them a chance to earn money and tell the real story of homelessness behind the statistics."
The crisis has been fuelled by a major lack of affordable and social housing.
Rents have meanwhile soared by more than 23% since 2015, the biggest increase in the European Union, according to a European Commission report last month that called for urgent action to tackle Ireland's homelessness.