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Man lived on street to avoid infecting relative

A homeless man who died in a tent in Dublin’s north inner city two years ago had only begun living on the streets to reduce the risk of infecting his elderly grandmother with Covid-19, an inquest has heard.

Thomas ‘Tomo’ Dowling, 44, a father of seven originally from Finglas, was found unresponsive in the tent of a friend on Loftus Lane behind the Cineworld cinema complex on Parnell Street in the early hours of 21 March 2022.

Relatives of Mr Dowling voiced dismay that he had died just as it appeared he was going to find rented accommodation and turn his life around.

They also expressed concern that he had been placed in a “wet” hostel by the homeless services a few months before his death, just after he had completed a detoxification programme when he had been alcohol-free for nine weeks.

A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court heard that Mr Dowling, who has a history of heavy drinking and depression, had only begun living in tents and hostels after moving out from his grandmother’s house, where he had been living intermittently, to reduce the risk of infecting her during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The deceased’s sister, Helen Dowling, told the inquest that she had last spoken to her brother by phone on 10 March 2022 when she learnt that he had been approved to receive a homeless housing assistance payment.

However, Ms Dowling said he had problems in getting hold of his social worker around the same time, while she had been unable to contact him the following week after his phone was seized after he had been arrested.

Asked by coroner Clare Keane about her brother’s physical health at the time, Ms Dowling said he was “grand” as he always managed to function despite problems with his health and addiction.

Ms Dowling, who was accompanied by a large group of relatives, said his death was “absolutely unexpected by every one of us”.

She told the coroner that her family were aware he had been living in a tent in the Phoenix Park.

Ms Dowling said when she had read about a homeless male being found dead in a tent in the inner city that she thought straight away that it could not be her brother.

“I thought: ‘That’s not Thomas as he’s up in the Phoenix Park,’” she recalled.

She gave evidence that her brother felt safer staying in a tent than in some homeless hostels because they were “full of drugs and alcohol”.

Ms Dowling also highlighted how the first hostel he had been placed in after completing a detoxification programme with the Simon Community was a facility where residents could drink alcohol.

The inquest heard he had been staying in a dry hostel in Dublin for several days about a week before his death but had lost his bed in the facility by being a “no show” on 14 March 2022.

In a statement, another homeless person, Shauna Baxter, who had also been living in a tent on Loftus Lane, said she and a friend had found Mr Dowling unresponsive in a tent belonging to her cousin when they arrived back to the area in the early hours of 21 March.

Ms Baxter said the deceased had been in the company of a couple and an older man in the tent the previous evening.

The inquest heard Mr Dowling’s skin had turned blue and there were signs of rigor mortis by the time emergency services were alerted, indicating that he had been dead for a while.

Garda Kiva McGing gave evidence of finding drug paraphernalia including needles around the tent but no drugs.

Ms McGing said there were no CCTV cameras on Loftus Lane and gardaí had been unable to trace the last movements of the deceased.

However, she stated there was no suspicion of foul play in relation to Mr Dowling’s death.

She said other witnesses would not identify the couple who had been in the tent with Mr Dowling and they had never been traced, while the older male would not confirm he was with the deceased on the day he died.

Dr Keane said post-mortem results showed Mr Dowling had died as a result of alcohol and mixed drug intoxication.

The coroner said tests showed he had consumed various drugs including cocaine and heroin in combination with a toxic level of alcohol.

Dr Keane said cocaine was known to cause sudden cardiac arrest regardless of the quantity or frequency of use of the drug.

She said she saw deaths from cocaine toxicity all the time but added: “I’m not sure how well understood that is.”

Although Mr Dowling’s relatives had expressed surprise that he had taken heroin as he had always told them he would not inject needles into his body, Dr Keane said the post-mortem examination had found three needle puncture marks on his forearm which were consistent with intravenous injections.

His son, Dylan, remarked: “We knew he would take everything else but news that he took heroin is a shock.”

Returning a verdict of medical misadventure, Dr Keane said Mr Dowling’s death was “a horrible reminder of what addiction is”.

Following the inquest, another sister, Michelle Dowling said: “He could have stayed with various family members but he wouldn’t, as he felt he was a burden on them because of his problems with alcohol. If he had got his own place, which he was about to, he would have been happy.”

Her sister, Helen, added: “Our brother’s death shows how easy it is for homeless people to slip between the cracks and die.”

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