The worst time is between six o'clock and 11 in the evening. The coffee shops are closed and the night bus, which does its round picking people off the street, has yet to come. The darkness thickens and the streets thin out, as everybody who has a home to go to scurries for cover. During that window in the long day, the cold really begins to bite. On Wednesday night, it dropped as low as -12?C.

The following morning there is a trickle of visitors to the basement rooms occupied by the Trust agency, which services those who have no home. Outside, snow is falling. Most who came in managed to find somewhere out of the cold to sleep the previous night. Now it's just a matter of putting down the day indoors, at Trust, or other service centres, maybe visiting a library, a coffee shop, anywhere that offers basic protection from the extreme elements.

Fintan was picked up by the nightbus opposite the Four Courts building at 11.30pm. The bus, which is run by Dublin City Council, brought him to a hostel. "I got an emergency bed," he says. "You have to ring the helpline, they tell you when the bus will be around, but sometimes it's much later, even though they're doing their best."

Early in the morning, he had to leave the hostel. He came down to Trust for a wash and a shave. He has been off heroin for nine months. He's 43 now, the years without direction are mounting up, but it's on mornings like this that his predicament takes on a stark perspective.

"Last winter wasn't anywhere as bad," he says. "I remember I was sleeping on Kildare Street at the time. There was heat coming from a vent that kept you warm through the night, but if it rained you were banjaxed. There's no way you'd be able to manage that in this weather.

John was released from prison after his latest stint on 18 December. For the following three weeks he slept on the streets, until finally, on Sunday last, he secured a bed in a hostel in Christchurch. He is confident he will be let stay there for a few weeks at least.

"I was sleeping in a lane at the back of the Alexander Hotel [off Merrion Square] through Christmas. There was a vent there to keep us warm, but not now. If I'm lucky I will get back into the hostel by afternoon. At least I can keep someway dry." He can't speak highly enough of Trust, Alice Leahy and the rest of the staff who welcome him each day.

Robbie will be 47 tomorrow. The way things are looking, he'll have a roof over his head on the night of his birthday. He has a place in a hostel at the moment, forking out €4.50 a night for a bed. He is confident he will be there for a while, certainly well into next week. He knows plenty who aren't as lucky.

"Some get into cars, which isn't too bad. But I've been in hostels that have been as cold as staying outside. In the good places they will put on a heater in the room."

At the height of winter, when finding a bed takes on a vital urgency, he thinks he's getting too old for this kind of life.

"When you have a few nights paid for, and you know you'll be there for a while, that's when it really hits you that you want your own home."