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Column: 'I cook dinner when I want, eat when I want. I was waiting 20 years for this'

After 20 years of institutional living, Alan has moved into his community. This is his story, as well as other HAIL project participants, now living lives of their own choosing.

Various

EARLIER THIS WEEK, HAIL (Housing Association for Integrated Living) launched the evaluation report, “A Home of My Own.” It details the experiences of people with enduring mental health difficulties, moving from mental health congregated settings into independent living in the community, with supports.

For many of these people, living in hostels had become an almost permanent arrangement, with most having spent much of their adult lives in this situation (a majority of participants had spent more than 10 years in their previous accommodation). Others had spent long periods in hospitals or in homeless facilities, and had little experience of living independently.

All but one of these managed to sustain living independently in the community. This is a remarkably positive result.

Here are some of the participants’ stories about the joys of a home of one’s own. They range from the pleasure of locking your own front door to watching Saturday morning telly in a nightie.

Martin’s story

I have been, for most of my life, homeless. It first happened when I was living with my grandmother, who was very good to me and she is someone I will never forget. When she passed away, I had no choice but to leave the house. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It frightened me and I found myself homeless.

I joined the Irish army when I was seventeen, where I have some good memories, but I started to drink and everything went upside-down. I suffered a very bad nervous breakdown and I was brought to St Brendan’s Mental Hospital where I spent years in and out of units, trying to cope with very nasty times.

I have been in some bedsits in Dublin over the years, which never worked out. It was with the help of some good friends that I have recovered and got help from HAIL and I am thriving in my new home now after years of difficulties. I am living there for over a year now. It was not easy trying to cope with life up until then. I have had somebody’s prayers, that’s for sure.

Barra’s story

I was eight years living in a hostel run by the psychiatric services of the HSE when I began working with a HAIL staff member (as a participant on the Slán Abhaile project). She asked me would I be interested in having my own apartment and the answer from me was yes. My stay in the hostel was okay, but I realised that having my own place was would be so much better than a hostel for my mental health. I went to visit an apartment and did an interview and I got an apartment. The rest, as they say is history.

James’ story

I was living at home with my family and then I spent a number of years in hospital due to my mental health difficulties. Life was bad a few years ago. I was living in a hostel.

When I met my HAIL support worker, she gave me the fight to go on with my life. I got help from my doctor, my occupational therapist and my nurses too. I would like to thank everyone in HAIL. I am now a HAIL Peer Support Volunteer and we help others to get out and about and enjoy social activities. I encourage others to never put themselves down and to be kind to one another.

I want to end the stigma of mental health difficulties.

Phil’s story

It was very hard when I came out of hospital. I had my own room in the hostel. It was tiny and I couldn’t lock my door. I had no privacy. With nurses present and sharing a kitchen and living area with everyone else, it felt like I was still in hospital, like I hadn’t moved away from it. It was my home then, but it was stressful. When I got the apartment, I was so delighted; it has a garden, a living room, a kitchen and bedroom. When I moved in it was like going to heaven. Oh the peace. On a Saturday morning I can have my breakfast, turn on the TV and stay in my nightgown… I hadn’t been able to do that in five years. Where I am at the moment, I am so happy. I am staying well and I am able to look after myself. Getting my own place is the best thing that ever happened to me. I am so happy, I am over the moon.

Alan’s story

I always wanted to live here. I love it. I am doing a course for two years. It is really good here. I get my shopping and I visit my family who are all nearby. I cook dinner when I want, eat when I want. I was waiting 20 years for this.

HAIL is a voluntary housing association in operation since 1985, providing long term permanent housing and high quality supports to people with enduring mental health difficulties. 

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