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'The last 18 months have been a living nightmare': Life in homelessness for a family of five

Laura and her family live in emergency hotel accommodation. Every donation to Focus Ireland helps families like them.

Image: Shutterstock/Halfpoint

“WHEN I HELD Seán for the first time and looked into his beautiful eyes, I cried. All I could say was ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean your life to start this way.’”

Laura* and her partner Alan have three children: Jack, eight, Sandra, six and Seán, now one. They’ve been experiencing homelessness for the last 18 months, living in one room in emergency hotel accommodation.

Their story is mirrored by hundreds of other families around Ireland. In October 2021, 8830 people were recorded as experiencing homelessness or living in emergency accommodation, and over 2500 of those were children.  

Struggling every day

Laura and Alan lost their home shortly before Seán was born, when their landlord told them he was selling up. “That’s all it took,” Laura writes in a letter published by Focus Ireland as the charity shares news of its Christmas appeal.

Since having to leave their rented accommodation, the couple have tried in vain to find somewhere else. “Every week in homelessness is like a lifetime. It’s like we’re living in a box,” says Laura of their current situation.

“There are five of us in this one small room. Everything we have is piled up in boxes against the wall… There is no room for a cot. We have no cooking facilities. You’re not even allowed a microwave. I have to heat Seán’s bottles in the kettle.”

As well as the lack of space and facilities, the accommodation is a lengthy journey from the kids’ school, meaning four bus trips a day for the family.

“The kids are always exhausted,” Laura says. “Sandra used to be so bubbly. And then, back in June, she just stopped eating… Then Jack started getting in trouble at school. He’s only eight but he’s so angry all the time.”

It’s the nights that are hardest for Laura, she says. That’s when the worry and panic begins:

Every night I watch the kids as they sleep… I start thinking, ‘What damage is this doing to them? What damage has it done already?’ There are nights I feel so ashamed. All I want is for my children to have a home.

shutterstock_1450817939 Source: Shutterstock/Bricolage

Much-needed help

Engaging with Focus Ireland’s services means Laura and her family have had invaluable help and support throughout the last 18 months. They’ll continue to receive this support for as long as they need it. 

“The first day I met Lisa, our Focus Ireland key worker, she said to me she was here to help and she would never stop until we had a home of our own again. Lisa and Focus Ireland have been our saviours,” says Laura.

We don’t have family to turn to and Alan works shifts so when Seán was born I was on my own a lot. I couldn’t cope. But Lisa organised everything. She even had a Moses basket and extra maternity clothes waiting for me when I came out of the hospital.

For Focus Ireland, Laura’s situation is all too common. Over 12,800 clients engaged with the charity in 2020.

The charity is there for people “all along the spectrum of homelessness,” says Niamh Lambe, from Focus Ireland’s Family Services team.

“From families who have just lost their home for whatever reason and are in crisis, to children experiencing homelessness who need one-on-one contact from our support workers, to families who need assistance settling in to their new home: we’re there at every step.”

This time of year can be hugely tough for families in homelessness, says Niamh, and the pandemic has added an extra layer of complication.

“Some of our families may be more isolated this Christmas than they have been previously. Maybe they have extended family that they would usually visit, but they can’t this year. Christmas in general can be a lot of pressure with children asking what Santa is going to bring or worry about how Santa will find them.”

Focus Ireland was able to support 820 families out of homelessness in 2020, and was able to help 470 families to keep their homes.

But support from the public is vital to allow this life-changing work to continue – be it by signing the charity’s online petition to end child homelessness by 2030, or by making a much-needed donation this Christmas. A gift of €125, for example, will help to provide a family like Laura’s with a home of their own for one month in Focus Ireland’s Supported Housing Scheme.

The people at Focus Ireland “have done so much for us over the past year and a half,” writes Laura.

“And I know that they will be here for us, every day, for as long as we need. This will be our second Christmas in homelessness. I hope it will be our last… Our children’s lives won’t start again until they have a home of their own. ”

Focus Ireland’s goal is to end homelessness. This Christmas, the greatest gift you can give a child is a home. Please donate to Focus Ireland today.

*All names and identifying details for Laura and her family have been changed.

Sponsored by:

Focus Ireland

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