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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019

Column: 'I was a medical doctor. I never thought I'd end up homeless but I did'

I am lonely and I am terrified. I am exhausted from the stress, writes Dr Annette Hunter.

Dr Annette Hunter Medical doctor

IN THE DICTIONARY the word “home” is described as “a place of residence”. But it is so much more than just the roof over our heads.

This definition does not take into account the strong psychological bond we form with our home. Losing our home is a devastating experience. Without a home we feel lost. Everything becomes temporary and insecure. We lose our dignity. Feelings of shame can engulf us like a thick fog on a winter’s night.

No matter how we came to lose our home, we whip ourselves with feelings of being a failure.

I took it for granted

I am ashamed to admit that I never stopped to think about how lucky I was to have a home. I took it all for granted. Everyone I knew had a home so it was no big deal. It was like having a car. Everyone I knew had a car too.

It was only when I was faced with losing my home did the importance of actually having one hit me. What if we have a home and we lose it? What is that like? What do we do when our safe haven is gone and there is no chance of ever getting it back? What happens if we end up homeless?

I never thought I would end up homeless but I did. I lost two homes in the space of four years.  The first loss came about as I had to retire early due to illness. I was self-employed and not being able to work meant I could not sustain paying my mortgage. I had to sell my home to clear it.

With the small amount I had left over from the sale, I set about getting a log cabin home built. Sadly the person I employed to build my new home turned out to be a cowboy builder.

My new log cabin home was officially condemned within the first year of living in it. It was declared unfit for habitation due to serious faults and safety issues.

Where do I go?

I am now left with no choice but to vacate my new home. Where do I go? How do I find money to pay rent when this was never part of my monthly budgeting?

I am lucky in that I don’t have the worry of having to factor in children. I have no children, but I do have three dogs, an old horse and a donkey. They are my children and they are all rescued. They are precious to me but if I have no home, well neither do they.

The simple but joyous little world I created after losing my home due to illness is now disintegrating around me. Do I have to lose not only my home but all my pets too?

I did try so hard to tackle what this builder did to me, but to date I have had no success in getting justice.

I felt such terrible shame

Before this happened, the word “homeless” was always an abstract word to me. I knew what the word “homeless” meant but did I really know what being homeless felt like? No. Nobody knows what this is like till they are actually in this situation.

I felt such terrible shame when I lost my homes. I am a medical doctor so how could I lose my home, not once but twice? I felt like such a failure.

The losses of my homes did not happen overnight. It took time for events to evolve to a point where I had to accept defeat and prepare to vacate both properties. As a result I had to navigate through years of protracted stress and anxiety. It was inevitable that depression took root in my mind.

Most people suffer huge psychological trauma when they lose their home. This experience can catapult a person into losing a grip on life itself.

I am still on this planet and so I speak for all the other people who have lost their homes. I know what you are going through as I am in that place too. I am lonely and I am terrified. I am exhausted from the stress.

Winter nights

As I write the outside temperature is 0C. The cold wind slices through the darkness. There is frost on the tips of the heather and it sparkles in the light of moon. But this place is no winter wonderland anymore.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this house is a death trap. When it rains the water pours in over electric sockets. The wiring is so damp from all the leaking that it causes the meter box to trip.

I end up having no electricity for long periods. No electricity means no water as the pump is dependent on electricity. I have not had a shower in four days and yes, I took having a warm shower for granted too.

The roof will eventually lift off in a storm as it is not secured down. For tonight, I do have this roof over my head so I force myself to feel grateful for the fact that I am not actually on the streets under a cardboard box.

Don’t judge others

Life can send us down paths we never want to explore as we don’t have as much control over our lives as we would like to think. Our circumstances can change when we least expect it and the fallout can result in us losing our home.

When you see homeless person, stop to think before you judge them. You don’t know what led them to end up living on the streets.

On a cold night when you curl up in bed under an electric blanket, take a moment to practice gratitude for having a home. It may be something you take for granted like I did, but anyone can end up homeless through no fault of their own.

Dr Annette Hunter qualified in medicine in 1985 from Trinity College Dublin. She retired due to illness in 2007. She has written a book about her experiences called The Importance of Having a Home and is currently looking for a publisher.

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About the author:

Dr Annette Hunter  / Medical doctor

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