Pascal Derrien

5 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

chat Contact the author

thumb_up Relevant message Comment

Frozen Lives & Broken Souls

Frozen Lives & Broken Souls

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and by 1990 I had already made the decision that I would travel to what was called the satellite countries, I would go accompanied or not but I would go no matter what.Travelling on a low budget I found myself heading to Poland, Romania, Hungary and the beautiful Prague long before it became fashionable to spend week end breaks in the Czech Republic capital.

In February 1991, seemingly so Westerner in my so noticeably winter attire I got interviewed by a TV crew one morning on my way to my breakfast spot, I was in Sofia in Bulgaria. I had travelled on my own and was staying in a cheap and run down hotel owned by some local wannabe oligarch, I could not stand the smell of his coffee so I found a corner shop at the angle of two avenues with two tables and few chairs to establish my morning HQ.

At first I, did not see her standing at the traffic lights, she looked old enough even for a babushka, she was wearing two different gloves with one thumb standing out in the frosty air, it was I think around ten a.m and the temperature was probably around minus two, she was dressed in two mismatched coats full of patches that once had carried some rainbow colours. It was obvious that she was a victim of the times but her eyes were full of sorrow and incomprehension. She had been left behind as the new era masters had very little time for people like her, whatever her life was it had led her to this traffic junction where all she could do was to beg for a few coins in order to keep her going another day.

Cars rarely stopped and she was standing there on automatic pilot. I finally got to notice she was wearing one worn out boot while the other foot was wrapped up in an improbable shoe made up with several layers of unknown material.

You don’t have to travel to witness misery, welcome to the fourth world, a world not too far from yours but for some reasons it seems most of us have chosen to supress it or make it invisible. I spent the most part of 10 years working as a volunteer for homeless organizations both in France and in Ireland.

Once a week I was running a team of volunteers on a night shift every Thursday, we would start at six in the evening and depending on how the night would progress we would leave around twelve or sometimes later in the night. The emergency shelter for men was a refurbished barge that could hold seventy beds, the canteen was large and the kitchen modern but the refurbished vessel had seen better days. Situated only a few kilometers away from Notre Dame the boat was stationed in a rather dodgy area making it difficult for me to recruit and retain volunteers. On the volunteer’s side of things, past the people wearing a Che Guevara T shirt and realizing the only revolution that could happen would take place in the kitchen I also had to deal with some instable characters that had a neat propensity to project their own insecurities. Having said that I could also rely on a few solid characters and they came handy more than once.

The nature of an emergency shelter is that you deal with raw and unpredictable situations, there is a say that if you are sleeping rough one day it takes you a week to recover mentally, if it is a week its ‘s a month recovery and if it’s a month it’s a year and when you know that only the toughest survive more than three winters I let you imagine what those broken souls can go thru …. I got to meet some incredible characters, Jeanne the transsexual, Wali the illegal migrant, Karl the German chef, Igor the Russian even though we think he was from Marseille or Jacques and his friend Bebel a cancer patient who walked out of a hospital.

No questions asked was the overarching principle and agency motto, first comes first served or referral only, none the less this triggered palpable tensions on the boat and generated tangible and violent episodes. Christmas would be fun but a riot could break out the following week. I could not allow myself to lower my guard at any time having to  bear in mind the enormous duty of care for both the volunteers and the ‘’customers’’ under my watch. No rest for the wicked, the level of intoxication, fear or frustrations of the day would determine the intensity of the nightly engagement.

They all had a story, they would tell you all about it or they would invent one, they all had in common a spiral of events that triggered a fall from society, most of them had lost contact with their family and friends and as for the others they had been rejected by  their acquaintances. Anyway their meagre ambitions now would only lead them to take it one day at the time.

In Dublin, the first part of my volunteer shift was to pick up left overs at Marks & Spencer with the small truck before moving on to door duty. The system was agency referral only but the word got out we always had people not turning up so many homeless would chance it any day to see if they could avail of a spare bed for the night. Some would be charming and full of Irish wit making a gentle attempt at twisting my arm in order to give them a non allocated bed.

I am a big bloke so I was very often outside the door chatting with the various guys, I got to know some of them, Doggy (real name Doug) was one of them he could not really speak hence his nickname but his eyes were telling, I think he liked me if I judge by the way he always shook my hand. I was also very fond of Joey, he knew a lot of stuff about movies and he was the one who introduced me to Johnny Cash, I think he was sixty or so but it is hard to know, you age quicker than normal when you sleep rough. I don’t know what was his story and I did not ask but we made an almost implicit and tacit appointment every Wednesday evening. I would get some food if I could not give him a bed. I was told by other volunteers from previous days that he always asked if I was coming so I made a point to always let him know way in advance if there was one Wednesday where I could not make it.

I have come across hundreds and hundreds of shattered lives in 10 years, so much so that I decided I could not take any more, so with relief and sadness I did my last shift In Dublin in 2002. That evening we had a great chat with Joey, he had never left Ireland and he knew I had travelled a fair bit so I don’t know how but we ended up talking about coffees in Sofia Bulgaria

Joey did not wake up one morning of the following winter

Frozen Lives & Broken Souls


Against Me: Borne On The FM Waves OF The Heart

Too much momentum.

This room feels like it's going to explode.

Too many angles.

Too many factors to cover.

Waiting for signal.

You're searching for network.

You have to fight to stay in control of the situation.

Anxiety, Anxiety you give me no mercy.

Grind my teeth smooth and flat in my sleep.

We took some pills to calm us down.

Then we needed help to come back up.

Just trying to stay in control of the situation.


Restos Du Coeur Paris

Simon Community Dublin

Excerpt From Borne On The FM Waves OF The Heart

Photo Credit

Life is a Titanic

Produced for beBee only

thumb_up Relevant message Comment

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #36

ccJason Versey

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #35

thank you for reading Claire Cardwell ☺

Claire L Cardwell

5 years ago #34

Beautiful story.. Thanks Pascal Derrien.

don kerr

5 years ago #33

Vous êtes la plupart de bienvenue.

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #32

So very sad, very Pascal Derrien

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #31

Merci Don Kerr :-)

don kerr

5 years ago #30

Right from the heart. So well crafted and so genuine. Sharing.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #29

The stories that most catch our notice are the tales of extraordinary heroism, But truth be told, the majority of truly heroic effort and behavior occurs within the context of day-to-day life, and is instantiated by those who consider themselves "ordinary", but who will not accept what is for what should be. If humanity is to be saved, it will be by the "regular guys" with grit, who will do the job.

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #28

Keep observing, Pascal. It's working for you. #32

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #27

@Robert Many thanks I think the stories are just the chronicles of a regular guy, now it is true I like to observe... :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #26

Irene Hackett you are very kind, it is not exceptional by any means many many people do this and much more .... :-)

Robert Cormack

5 years ago #25

Great piece, Pascal. You've come a long way and you've observed. That's a talent in itself and I think it makes your stories very rich. Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #24

Phil Friedman wow I am blushing here, not sure it is that good but a compliment is a compliment so thank YOU :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #23

Dean Owen hmm I could visualize the 4 packs when you mentioned that, the reality has no filters indeed :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #22

thanks Lisa Gallagher yes a lot of mental illnesses in the street, people not diagnosed or medicalized in any shape or form but it seems nobody cares in the end since my time on the street the drugs plague which was marginal enough is now the biggest problem :-(

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #21

Thanks Fatima Williams it is evident to me that there is good will when facing adversity sometimes we are not as bad as we think as a specie but on the other hand we have a poor track record at showing it :-(

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #20

A story well told Pascal Derrien. It's so sad because many of the homeless people are mentally ill and from what I've heard, suffer from Schizophrenia. Yes, there are those who are homeless because they lost it all but those who choose to live in the streets through out each bitter winter, well it brings tears to my eyes. You saw it first hand and I'm glad you touched so many lives. I'm sure you touched more than you were ever aware of. Thank you for sharing, you have a kind and caring heart- it's very evident in your writing. Obviously I never knew Joey, but I echo your sentiments, RIP Joey and to all the "Joeys" who died homeless.

Dean Owen

5 years ago #19

You paint an unvarnished picture of reality Pascal. I am cheering for Bebel. And what a great initiative with the Marks and Spencer's leftovers. Their hot cross buns taste good even a few days after expiry.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #18

Some gifted authors are able to write from the heart. Others --- a very rare few are able to touch your soul. This piece by Pascal Derrien does just that, in a way that few, if any of us can ever aspire to do. This is a top read, and well worth the effort.

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

5 years ago #17

A very touching story I had goosebumps reading. It's such a blessing that you were able to help so many people and give them hope. Thank you for sharing this @Pascal Derrien We have to fight to stay in control of the situation. Anxiety gives us no mercy

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

5 years ago #16

A very touching story I had goosebumps reading. It such a blessing that you were able to help so many people and give them hope. Thank you for sharing this Pascal Derrien We have to fight to stay in control of the situation. Anxiety gives us no mercy!

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #15

Franci Eugenia Hoffman indeed widespread and endemic with no real solutions other than short term perfusion what a waste .... .😩

Very touching, Pascal. It's unfortunate people experience such hardship for whatever reason. It is a growing concern, indeed. It seems there is no worthy resolve to homelessness.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #13

thanks Laura Mikolaitis I think we do what we can not always what we want .... :-)

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #12

thank you Sara Jacobovici every little helps I suppose nothing heroic :-) , I think I will go back to this but not now, at the moment I am teaching my kids to say hello or smile to homeless people in the street, sometimes they ask me if they can give them some change...

Sara Jacobovici

5 years ago #11

"...they all had in common a spiral of events that triggered a fall from society..." Pascal Derrien shares their stories.

Sara Jacobovici

5 years ago #10

My hat's off to you Pascal Derrien. Well done from all points of view. Thank you for putting your thoughts and feelings in writing and for then sharing them with us.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #9

Thanks Kevin Pashuk these agencies are needed either with a local or international reach people volunteering or working for them are generous souls most of the time :-)

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #8

I volunteer on the board of directors for a local compassion agency that helps those in need in our community. Your post reminded me again why agencies like these are so important.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #7

Thanks Laurent Boscherini I think you need to be a bit less oblivious of what is going around us in general ..... :-)

Laurent Boscherini

5 years ago #6

Thank you Pascal Derrien for sharing your insightful and experienced post so tremendous. I remember very well "Louise-Catherine ", built by Le Corbusier.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #5

ah Praveen Raj Gullepalli such a comment full of warmth and kindness :-)

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #4

Finding time to share and just listening seems to work wonders, although who am I to tell you how to suck eggs? You seem to have the loaves and fishes recipe well sorted.

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #3

thanks debasish majumder for taking the time to read :-) Much appreciated

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #2

Thanks Ken Boddie after I survived my accident in the mid eighties I realized that I should do something meaningful with my life or at least having an intent now I am not Einstein so I came up with he idea I should help people broken down people getting back up again...... maybe a conversation or a smile means more than.....

Ken Boddie

5 years ago #1

Your words never fail to tug at the heartstrings, Pascal. You seem to have been beaten up a time or two by Lady Luck on 'ice', but still find time to give back. What makes you tick, big fellah? It isn't selfishness, that's for sure!

More articles from Pascal Derrien

View blog
2 months ago · 1 min. reading time

Everybody Wants To Rule The World

There are a lot of tensions in the world lately, a ...

5 months ago · 2 min. reading time

Can I Call You John ?

For those who know me you know that while I have a ...

7 months ago · 2 min. reading time

On The Subject Of ....

Unstable home, alcohol fuelled environment, nomadi ...