Homelessness can often feel Sisyphean, as it involves an exhausting, all-consuming daily cycle of trying to determine where to sleep that night.

29-year-old James Nolan, who hails from Tallaght, south of Dublin, can attest to this. He has experienced homelessness for around 11 years, having had to move out of home after a difficult home environment became untenable.

Nolan marked his 18th birthday in a hostel and has spent the subsequent years alternating between sleeping in shop doors and shelters and moving from temporary hostel accommodation to temporary hostel accommodation, ever working towards attaining a permanent, secure home.

He has recently secured a six-month bed, which means he has hostel accommodation for the next six months. But prior to that — and possibly after it too — finding accommodation was an all-consuming daily task.

“You have to call the number on the free phone at 4:30pm,” Nolan says. “And if you don’t get a bed then, you have to stay around the streets. You have to try calling again at 10:30pm, in case a bed has become free in that time.”

Successfully securing a bed only means being able to stay at the hostel until 7am, which results in spending the day walking the streets, waiting for 4:30pm to come and for the bed-booking cycle to begin again.

“It’s not living,” Nolan says. “It’s no way of living.”

For starters, it’s impossible to make plans beyond the next few hours: “When you live in a hostel, you can’t even play football when you don’t know where you’re staying.”

He says: “It’s a burdensome life, you know? The only way is to keep trying and not give up, you know? Just keep up the fight.”

Nolan says that even the six-month bed is still no good because he’s surrounded by people battling addiction and mental health issues. Nolan has always steered clear of drugs, but their presence makes for a precarious and dangerous living environment.

Plus, hostels are not suitable environments for families. “I have kids, but I can’t really support them, staying in a hostel,” Nolan says. “It’s very tough for me to get to see my kids, I get less sleep, have less showers…”

He describes the situation as: “like prison. It’s like prison on the streets.”

Nolan has lost many friends to suicide, and suicide is something that he’s thought about for himself.

“If it wasn’t for my children, I wouldn’t be here,” he says. Nolan’s oldest children are six and two years old. They’ve been watching him take the pitch in the Ireland games via the livestream and cheering every goal. Nolan’s third child passed away suddenly on Father’s Day, approximately three months before the tournament. He was 10 months old.

“When my son died, my dream became to make the Homeless World Cup team,” Nolan says. It gave him something tangible to focus on while grappling with bewildering grief. “I had to keep training for the Homeless World Cup. I had to keep going. But it was tough for me. It was really tough.”

Playing football and attending the Homeless World Cup has, essentially, been a lifeline for Nolan.

“I was playing football this year because I want to play football. For a lot of my life, I didn’t want to play football. I was only doing it to waste time before going back to my hostel. But now…”

Participating in the Homeless World Cup has been invaluable, with Nolan enjoying the football, the experience of life away from Dublin’s hostels, and also meeting new friends both within and beyond the team.

His plans when he gets home are to try to get his own place — one where his children can live too. In the short term, he wants to spend more time with his kids.

Nolan admits he’s not looking forward to heading home to Ireland. “But what can you do?” he says. “You just have to get on with it…I’m 11 years homeless and still going strong, you know? I know I’ve gone through different patches all the time, but I’m still alive. I’m playing football, which I love.”

Words: Fiona Crawford
Image: Romain Kedochim