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homeless in the west

Beating homelessness: 'I look at photos of my grandchildren to keep me sober'

High rents, alcoholism and illness – there are so many roads that lead to homelessness.

TWO YEARS AGO, published an extensive study of homelessness in Ireland. Since then the issue has gained traction and is of huge national concern.

This week, we are examining homelessness beyond the capital. What is the situation around the whole of Ireland? And what is being done to improve it?

REPOSSESSIONS, HIGH RENTS, alcoholism, drug use, illness, a series of things going wrong – there are many reasons behind the increase in people becoming homeless or becoming at risk of it.

Here, two people who ended up homeless in Galway city explain how they ended up on the streets – following very different, but equally difficult, paths.

Paul’s story*

Paul became homeless because of alcohol dependency.

He says he “went too far” a couple of years ago, prompting a friend to get him into a 13-week detox programme.

Paul completed the treatment. When he left he was due to rent a house in a suburb of Galway city.

“The landlord let me down, he had let it out to someone else. I went back on the drink, I had so much money in my pocket.”

shutterstock_44573947 File photo Shutterstock / forestpath Shutterstock / forestpath / forestpath

Paul, now 60 years old, says he initially went from house to house of people he knew but “that got too much” and he ended up sleeping on the street for a few nights.

He visited a Galway Simon centre and they got him a place at COPE’s Fairgreen hostel. Paul says the staff of both organisations were “fantastic”. Through his key worker, he did a computer course and got a part-time job as a driver.

Paul says it was difficult to stay sober while at the hostel, recalling: “Trying to stay off the drink wasn’t easy believe you me, there were fellas on drugs and drink around me, but I had the staff there for back-up. They helped me a lot.”

Paul stayed there for five months before being able to move into a house.

He says working helped boost his confidence and get his independence back.

My two daughters – one in England and one in Dublin – started speaking to me again because I was sober and doing something about it. That relationship has grown and grown and now I see my grandchildren, which probably wouldn’t have happened had I kept on drinking.

He also got to walk one of his daughters down the aisle at her wedding. “I was delighted,” he says.

shutterstock_234299842 Paul now finds the phone his daughters bought him a lifeline to keeping in contact and reminding himself what he has to lose. (stock photo) Shutterstock / Minerva Studio Shutterstock / Minerva Studio / Minerva Studio

Paul still speaks to a counsellor regularly, something he credits with keeping him focused and sober. He is now trying to look after his health and diet.

Paul says some of his issues stem from a difficult childhood and “bad memories that I haven’t let go of”.

People would say, ‘At least you have your memories’, it’s difficult when the memories are killing you. I’ve let most of it go now and swallowed a hell of a lot of pride.

“I used to have a joke that when you’re walking down the street and someone asks you how you’re feeling, they’d take a run and jump if you told them the truth.”

He says a “big incentive” to stay sober are the photos of his grandchildren on his phone.

“If I feel like taking a drink I look at the photos. If I take a drink I will not see them again.”

His daughters bought him an iPhone so they can FaceTime each other. “I’m in the 21st century now,” he laughs.

Paul has come a long way since being homeless two years ago but notes: “I don’t want to get too cocky, that could be my downfall.

If people ask me how long I’m sober, I say I’m sober today. That’s all I’ve got.

“If I thought, ‘I’ve been sober for two years, I deserve one drink’, that would be the one that would ruin my life.”

*Not his real name

Ann’s story*

Homelessness can happen to anyone – and many of us could be closer to it than we would suspect. For Ann, she found herself on the edge of society through a combination of illness, a family disagreement and sheer bad timing.

Ann became a single parent after her divorce. Once her children had grown up and had children of their own, she decided to move counties for a fresh start.

She arrived in Galway over 10 years ago and started a new job. “Everything was going along nicely. I was settling in and was very happy. Then I was diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness and everything just fell apart.”

She said:

It was the first time that I didn’t have a wage – suddenly I was on illness benefit. I found it very difficult to deal with.

Ann went back after her treatment, but found she wasn’t well enough to do all the hours she was contracted to do. Around the same time, her mother became ill and Ann turned down a job offer so she could help look after her.

shutterstock_83169940 File photo Shutterstock / phiseksit Shutterstock / phiseksit / phiseksit

She became ill again and had to go back to hospital. Then the property she was living in was sold so she moved in with a family member on a temporary basis. However, following a disagreement, she was forced to move out and had nowhere to go.

“I was in such shock … I couldn’t even think about where I was going to go or what I was going to do. My GP suggested I contact COPE Galway, and the council, but I wasn’t even able to think because I was so sick at the time.”

Ann stayed in a hotel for a few nights before getting a room in COPE Galway’s Osterley Lodge hostel.

“This was all totally alien to me,” she recalls, “I had no idea where I was going or what would happen.”

Ann says she made hundreds of calls over the course of eight months in an attempt to find somewhere to live.

“Everyone was talking about homelessness at the time, that there wasn’t enough accommodation, that rents were too high and that the rent allowance was too low.

It wasn’t like I wasn’t used to upheaval, but this was a different level. I was a mess.

Ann just told a few people about her situation, noting: “Only my small circle of friends and my children are aware of what happened. Nobody outside of that knew – I would feel very embarrassed if anyone knew.”

Ann says she found it very difficult to read some of the comments left under online articles about homelessness.

When you read articles about homelessness, they may try to imply there’s a stereotype, but it can happen to anybody. People have no idea what it’s like. Until you walk in that person’s shoes, you will really never know.

“Yes, there are people that are homeless due to alcohol or drug abuse, and yes, it’s a choice they make to begin with, but then they can’t find a way out or maybe they’re not strong enough.

“There are other people, like me, who are homeless for other reasons.”

shutterstock_269604665 File photo Shutterstock / wernerimages Shutterstock / wernerimages / wernerimages

After eight months, Ann found a house through the council.

She is very grateful to COPE, saying the “support and kindness” offered to her at the hostel “really helped towards a level of healing”.

Ann says it’s a “crime” that parents and children could be out on the street in Galway and elsewhere tonight.

“People don’t understand the hurt, people don’t understand the pain. I’ve read about women with their children sleeping in cars, sleeping in hotel rooms and it’s criminal. If they’re lucky and they come across COPE Galway and the ladies in Osterley, then there’s hope.”

*Not her real name

Our #Homeless Ireland 2016 series continues all of this week on

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