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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 26 July, 2014

Ireland’s housing crisis: Four women’s stories of facing eviction and homelessness

Their stories have been highlighted in a video released by a People Before Profit candidate in Meath.

A LOCAL ELECTION candidate in Navan, Co Meath, has sought to raise awareness of Ireland’s housing crisis, highlighting the stories of four women and their families who are facing eviction or already living homeless.

People Before Profit representative, Alan Lawes, along with filmmaker Marcus Howard, gave these four women a chance to shine a light on their situations, in a video released this evening.

Here are their stories:

Jeannette Campbell

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This mother of two was in a serious car crash just eight weeks after her husband left her in 2004. She has been disabled since then but told TheJournal.ie that she was “too ashamed” to claim disability allowance as she had worked all her life.

She and her youngest daughter, who was just four-years-old at the time of her accident, lived on credit cards for two years and she she could no longer meet the repayments, she re-mortgaged her house with a sub-prime lender.

I was phoned, while I was down at my mother’s wake asking when my next payment would be paid and when I said “I am at my mother’s wake” they said “Sorry to hear that, when will you be paying us?”, so it was a bit tough to deal with.

Campbell said eviction is now imminent, though she has been paying as much of her debt as she can each month.

“Every day I wake up, and I haven’t slept – I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a full night’s sleep,” she said. “I wait and wait and wait for the postman to call to see what letters are arriving today. It’s absolutely terrifying.”

Having two slices of bread at night and having to tell your daughter don’t make toast that’s for the morning  - things like that that you never thought you’d have to do – diluting your milk with water – things I never ever would have to do in the 21st century after working my whole life.

The mother of two said she has approached the council several times over the last few years but has been told that nothing can be done for her until she has been evicted and has nowhere else to go.

Campbell said she no longer recognises herself as the stress of the last few years takes its toll on her mental and physical health. She has been put on anti-depressants and her disability and poor financial situation means she can rarely leave her house.

I’ve had cancer and been treated for that since this started, I have fibromyalgia, I have arthritis in almost every joint in my body, everything it s struggle, yeah it’s had a massive, massive affect on my health. And I think on my daughter in some sort of way it has affected her greatly.

She is like a mother to me and that’s not right, she’s only 14.

Fiona Reid

Fiona Reid also borrowed from a sub-prime lender to pay for her house. She is now living on just €37 a month in a house with no heating and broken windows, and with just one hob to cook on for her three children. In this video, she explains how she manages on her meagre income.

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“I never thought I’d be sitting here at 40 years of age and not [have] the price of a bag of coal. I want to get out and the council aren’t helping me, the standard I have my kids at isn’t liveable,” Reid said.

She said she is “embarrassed to be Irish” having worked from eleven-years-old and raised three children on her own.

I feel I was on a high in the boom – I shouldn’t have got that mortgage but I did and as far as – everybody’s been courteous, they know they can’t get the money, but I’m still going to get this letter. All they’ve advised me to do is to go to the council, the council are telling me to go back to the bank, the council are telling me, more or less, that I’m going to be out on the street now.

She, too, is now waiting for an eviction notice.

“My pride went a long time ago,” she commented in the video. “I think my pride went when the claim – when I knew it wasn’t possible, you’re stripped to nothing.”

Caroline McCormack

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The 22-year-old became homeless when she was kicked out of her family home last July, with no money and none of her belongings. She was first moved to a hostel, sharing a room with three other people.

McCormack said she was warned by the council that she was taking a risk going on the homeless list because she did not have any drug or alcohol problems and she would undoubtedly be forced to live with people who do. She was advised it would be better for her to sleep on friends’ couches until she could find rental accommodation but this was not an option for her and so she was placed in emergency accommodation.

“At first, I was a bit nervous, I’d never been in that environment before,” she told TheJournal.ie. “I only had one change of clothes and I wouldn’t leave anything there, if I left I’d take everything with me in a bag.”

“The first girl I was with was really nice but then she was moved and the second one was smoking heroin in the place so I went back to carrying everything on my back again.”

Most people would choose streets over hostels because hostels can be quite dangerous places. There’s a general mix of people who have drug issues or alcohol issues and people do actually use while they’re in hostels.

McCormack is now living in a different hostel, that is “more focused on moving on”. However she will not be allowed onto the housing list until she is in rented accommodation, something that will be a struggle for her as she said rent allowance on top of her €100 social welfare payment will not be enough.

“I’m hoping that this is the final step,” she said. “I’m saving up now so I have my first month’s rent but if I had to move into another hostel before then it would be a big step back.”

Kym Dunleavy

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Kym Dunleavy and her two boys have been living in emergency accommodation for one year and two months in total. She has been placed in a number of B&Bs, sharing one room with her two sons. These B&Bs, which are used as hostels, are often inhabited by addicts and Dunleavy has spoken of the worry she felt, bringing her two children into that environment.

“You feel terrified, because your children’s security is being taken away,” she said. “And you feel you’re somehow at fault for that, but it’s a real realisation but it’s the new face of homelessness.”

“Everything just tumbles and spirals out of control because it’s not contained at the beginning and you’re not given hope. You become a very desperate individual very soon after you go into homelessness.”

[There's] exceptional pressure, and also having to look at my two boys’ faces was demoralising. When you become homeless and you’ve not ventured into the homeless world, you develop a skin and you’re desperate to shed it it and it’s the skin of homelessness and it won’t leave you, it sits on your shoulders and it won’t leave you and it just envelopes you and then it just scars you, it leaves an imprint on you and you can’t shed it, you’re desperate to shed it but you can’t because the only way you can shed it is when you can your own personal four walls, your security, your own key and you look at your childrens’ faces and you know they’re safe. Then, only, will that skin shed.

Local authorities

In response to a query from TheJournal.ie in respect of the four women, the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government said the following:

In relation to persons who are homeless it is recommended that they contact their local authority’s Homeless Section who will organise temporary accommodation and will assess their situation with a view to providing them with more long term accommodation options. Local authorities assess housing applicants, independently of this Department, taking into account factors such as the condition and affordability of existing accommodation, medical and compassionate grounds, etc The local authority then prioritises the needs of approved applicants. The caps on rent supplement is a matter for the Department of Social Protection.

The full interviews with the four women can be watched here:


(Video: Jim Murphy/YouTube)

Read: Woman sleeping in TD’s office accommodated after a Facebook appeal>

Read: Dublin council blames tenants for drop in rent collection>

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