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Children living in emergency accommodation: growing up in fear and isolation

“I miss my old friends. I don’t like where I am. It’s scary. It’s not fun and I can’t play outside. I want to go home.”

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RISING RENTS AND mortgage arrears means there are now more families at risk of losing their homes nationwide than ever before.

The number of families becoming homeless has more than doubled over the past year.

Focus Ireland says there are now 32 families losing their home in Dublin every month – which means one family is going homeless every day and 10 children a week.

In August of this year 40 families became homeless in Dublin alone.

Chief Executive of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, said families are then forced into emergency accommodation where they’re living in overcrowded conditions where parents have no access to cooking or washing facilities and children have nowhere to play, inside or out.

The housing crisis is forcing families into homelessness with children growing up in fear, uncertainty and isolation.

He said the most important thing in a child’s life is stability and these children are not getting that.

‘It’s scary, I can’t play outside. I want to go home’

One mother who was living in emergency accommodation with her children told that the conditions were damp and filthy, “the children are in and out of Temple Street with chest conditions”.

She said the children had hair lice, rashes, midget bites and sores on their mouths due to the conditions.

She added that the 7-month-old child of another woman in emergency accommodation had to go back to a hotel as the conditions just weren’t suitable for a baby.

The mother also described how it was emotionally difficult for the children. Her son said to her, “Mam I’m not going to school today, what if the kids ask me where I live?”

Fergus Finlay said, “Children are witnessing violence and drug use in some of these places.

They’re scared because they’re living in cramped conditions surrounded by adults they don’t know.

One 9-year-old child described his experience as scary:

I had to move school. I miss my old friends. I don’t like where I am. It’s scary. It’s not fun and I can’t play outside. I want to go home.

shutterstock_168466205 Source: child via Shutterstock

‘Homeless, crime and prison could be the future for these children’

Barnardos’ Project Leader, Emma Jane Nulty, explained that children are living in crisis and that it is now becoming their norm. She said this will have a huge impact on their wellbeing.

Finlay also added that:

These conditions create huge social problems for the children and homelessness, crime and prison could be their future unless something is done.

Lisa Silke is the manager at COPE Galway Osterley Lodge, which provides emergency accommodation for women.

“A number of years ago we would have had one family here but we had to increase our services to families due to the demand.

“For children themselves – living in a hostel environment brings its own problems.”

Sister Stanislaus Kennedy founded Focus Ireland in 1985, she emphasised the massive stress this puts on families.  “It is totally unacceptable that families with babies and young children are being homeless every day and many are forced to live in a hotel room for months at a time which is terribly damaging to the family unit.

It places terrible stress on the parents and impacts on the children very badly in terms of development and their all-around wellbeing and health.

One mother described how even after settling into a new apartment, her 11-year-old daughter was still getting comments in school.

Kids are cruel so they still say stuff to her like, ‘You were homeless’ and ’You were in the paper’, that’s very hard on a child. She doesn’t go out and play anymore. She’s gone really in on herself.

‘We just grin and bear it’

Gwen Connell is a single mother of three girls who was forced to separate from her daughters after her rent jumped from €900 to €1,300.

Speaking about her past apartment, she told, “I know it wasn’t our house but it was our home.”

She said that even though the four of them are back together and living in a private two bedroom apartment, she still worries as there’s no certainty that rent won’t go up and she’ll be back in the same situation again.

No wonder they call us backwards in Ireland.

“Homelessness really does take it’s toll on a family and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but I don’t feel stable and I still worry all the time.

“I couldn’t hold my head up for weeks after we were in the media – it is very embarrassing, it’s very hard but a lot of families are affected by this now. Every second person you talk to knows someone going through it – it’s ongoing.

00149646 Source: Laura Hutton via Photocall Ireland

“My lease is up in March and there’s nothing concrete about what our future holds.

“I’ve lost a bit of my fight, people in Ireland – we just grin and bear it- a lot of people are feeling that way at the minute. We can shout and scream but they just don’t listen.

All I keep thinking at the minute is March, what’s going to happen in March.

“I’m trying to keep things as happy as I can.”

(Pic at top: Andrew Bennett via Flickr/Creative Commons)

First published 10.30am

Read: ‘Mam I’m not going to school today, what if the kids ask me where I live’>

Catch up with the rest of our homeless series here>

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