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Opinion: We were a normal married couple who fell on hard times. Now, we sleep in our car.

When we see homeless people, we only look at where they ended up – not the road that took them there.

Image: itsmejust via Shutterstock

WE WEREN’T RICH. My wife wasn’t working, but I had a job. We paid the bills on time and, although foreign holidays were out of the question, a night in a good hotel every now and then was achievable. We had just given up on the idea of having children, but were determined to make the most of life. Our house was rented – rented, but our long-term home. I had turned 40 and, to my huge surprise, I liked being 40. Settled and content.

We had made our decision to give up on having children in September 2012, partly due to medical advice. In many ways, being told that we shouldn’t try took away a lot of pressure.

In March 2013 we suffered a miscarriage, it was early stages but a huge hammer blow. We’d given up trying, given up hope, and now here was a sign.

We fell on hard times – very hard times

The eventual road to where we are now had a lot of other incidents on it, too. From May to October that year I suffered a head injury in work, bullying, my wife’s parents had both had long hospital stays, and I lost my grandparents in the space of 12 weeks. My two heroes gone. In October, my wife’s father diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In the middle of all that I was working without a weekend off. I was starting to suffer headaches and went to the doctor. It was stress-related, she said. At home or work in quiet moments I would cry.

At work the roster for September/October went up, I was left without a weekend off. I asked my manager for a weekend off, explaining I was tired and close to breakdown. I was told I was unimportant and if I was close to breakdown 400,000 people would happy to fill my job. After months of bullying from this man, I snapped and walked out.

After walking out on work I was afraid to leave the house. Some days my wife would dress me because I was unable. My doctor diagnosed me with anxiety and depression and prescribed antidepressants, calmers and sleeping tablets.

The bills began to stack up

As I had been working, my wife had been getting just €93 per week Jobseeker’s Allowance. Three different people in the same social welfare office gave us different advice on what we would be entitled to. The result being that for 13 weeks we subsisted on €93 a week. In mid December we started getting the correct payments. However, we were three months behind. It would be easy to paint our landlord as a bad guy, but he tried to work with us. In late January, though, both sides realised that the situation was beyond saving and we left our home on 16 February. We stayed with a family member for a time, but overcrowding meant it wasn’t feasible.

In April, with our dogs in tow, we started sleeping in our car. A 14-year-old Skoda Fabia. We slept wherever we thought quiet and reasonably safe. We washed when we could in petrol stations. All the time having ultimately pointless meetings with the council over our situation. For the last month we have been sleeping in the car in my wife’s parents yard. That’s it. Life hasn’t got easier. We aren’t allowed to shower or wash our clothes, or cook hot dinners.

When you lose your home it’s amazing how quickly family and friends become vultures. “Can I have that TV/coffee table/couch, you have no use for them?” became a familiar cry, as did “you’ll be glad of the money”. It doesn’t matter that these were things we worked hard for, didn’t matter one bit.

As I write I haven’t had a decent wash in two weeks, I last changed clothes three days ago. Coincidentally my wife has an interview tomorrow, she is dreading it because body spray and perfume can only hide so much.

It’s so hard to get our of this situation

Why don’t we just rent? We have no deposit, and most ads now say NO RENT ALLOWANCE. We are lucky we have a housing association looking for a house for us, and we can look ourselves, but any agents/landlords who answer are not interested despite the long-term stability.

Living in a car has had an impact on my health. Whereas I was slowly recovering, I am now back on more meds. Each morning suicide runs through my mind. I have the place picked to go through with it. Not wanting to leave my wife as a homeless widow stops me. She and I have no joy in our lives. All our conversations revolve around our situation. We sleep seperated by the handbrake in the car, but might as well be worlds apart. Even if she doesn’t blame me, I carry this guilt. I’ve failed us.

At the moment I will be honest, I don’t want to work, I don’t feel ready – and there is a fear of a recurrence of what happened in my last job – but that doesn’t mean I’m happy to sit around. I have volunteered to mentor intellectually disabled people, and I hope to start a course to become a tutor so I can teach adult literacy.

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So many people misunderstand mental illness

We look at people with mental illness as freaks, if a person isn’t wearing a bandage, then they aren’t really sick. If it’s in the mind, surely the mind can fix it? How many times have we looked at a homeless person and thought they could change their situation easily, or it’s their fault? If it’s a mentally ill person who is homeless we view them with disgust, abhorrence. We see where they ended up, not the road that took them there.

Homelessness. It’s embarrassing. I’m ashamed of my current situation, I feel my dignity stripped and gone. Our car is our prison. And yet… we are the lucky homeless, many sleep in the streets and have no voice, they don’t have associations to help. I haven’t seen a bed in two months, I very rarely have a hot dinner, but I don’t sleep in the street to be abused and pissed on at night by drunks, and I do get to eat.

We live day to day. At the moment my wife and I are living close to each other, you could say on top of each other, but we are worlds apart. Homelessness eats at our relationship, you can’t have a relationship where there is no happiness, where one carries a guilt and both carry little hope. As for relationships with other people? It’s impossible when you are ashamed to even face them. I never went to work to become rich. I just wanted a normal family life.

Now? As for my hopes and goals… I want a home. I want us to feel safe and secure. I want to do the course, I want to make people’s lives a little better. That sounds too good? Too much like a poor man’s Bono? Maybe, but when you have nothing but time you realise how little you have really achieved and, especially when you have no children, you have no legacy.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous. 

Read: This blood-stained mattress was offered to a family in a Dublin homeless shelter – Councillor

Read: Housing shortage could see “tsunami of homeless” in Ireland


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