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Dublin: 19 °C Tuesday 11 August, 2020
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Living on pot noodles and cereal: 'It's hard living out of bags in one hotel room with your children'

Families on the streets, living in hotel rooms and living on next to nothing – this is happening every day in this country and it needs to end, writes Rory Hearne.

Rory Hearne Post-doctoral researcher

THE HOUSING CRISIS has reached the point where housing charities are calling for it to be declared a ‘national emergency’ and a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

The facts are startling – such as 1,500 children now living in emergency accommodation or over 100,000 on social housing waiting lists and 50,000 people facing repossession of their home. But these cold facts do not adequately capture the personal, real-life, impact of the crisis on families and children.

Increasingly those directly affected are starting to speak out about their experiences in order to try get their situations addressed.

In this article three parents facing homelessness and living in emergency accommodation tell their stories. They explain the impacts on their children and how they are taking action together, including getting involved in organising a public conference on housing taking place this weekend in Dublin city centre.

A mother struggling to keep her home 

Aisling Hedderman, a mother of two young children, has struggled for a number of years to keep a home for herself and her two children due to rising rents and the insecurity of tenant’s leases in private rented accommodation.

Early last year she decided to do something, not just for her own family but for the hundreds of families who were facing a similar threat of homelessness. She felt that the crisis for families on rent allowance was being ignored by the government. Rent allowance has become a de-facto form of social housing with over 150,000 households in receipt of the payment, some for over a decade.

30/9/2015. Homeless families Crisis Protest at Leinster House over housing crisis. Source: Sam Boal

However, this is resulting in major problems as private landlords decide to increase rents or not to take on tenants in receipt of the payment. The growing gap between the rents being charged by landlords and the capped rent allowance provided by social welfare has meant thousands of these families are facing homelessness.

Keep from sleeping on the streets 

Aisling set up a housing action support group in Darndale in North Dublin to try help these people becoming homeless from the private rented sector to access emergency accommodation and keep them from having to sleep on the streets.

People are becoming homeless she explains “because landlords are selling their properties, banks are repossessing, the rent supplement is not enough to cover increases in the rent and tenants don’t know about their rights or services that can help”.

She claims that families and individuals can only access Dublin City Council (DCC) homeless services the day they become homeless. Now because of the lack of emergency accommodation they are being told that they must ‘self-accommodate’. This means they must find emergency accommodation themselves by ringing around hotels to see if there is availability.

10/7/2015. Housing Activists Protests Protest at the Bolt Hostel Source: Sam Boal

Increasingly there is no hotel rooms available or hotels aren’t taking the DCC payment. Aisling and other housing activists squatted the empty ‘Bolt Hostel’ earlier in the summer to try and provide a stop gap measure for such families unable to access emergency accommodation. Families are ‘lost and without hope’, Aisling explains, and they are doing all they can to “try keep them and their children off the streets”.

Dampness affecting her daughter’s asthma 

Louise has been supported by Aisling and the housing group. Louise and her daughter, who is seven years old and suffers from chronic asthma, were made homeless when their landlord told her to leave their house in North Dublin nine months ago. Louise had been asking the landlord to improve the conditions in the house as there were serious problems of dampness that were affecting her daughter’s asthma.

However, the landlord said she didn’t have the money ‘to do up’ the house. Louise contacted the city council health inspector who assessed the house and contacted the landlord. But Louise explains that “ this just made the landlord angry and then she told me to leave”.

Louise then contacted Aisling who put her in touch with Threshold and the city council homeless services. The council told her they had nothing for her and to come back in a few days. Louise had to ask her friends could she sleep on their couches which they helped her out with for a few days. DCC then gave her emergency accommodation in a hotel in North Dublin.

That was nine months ago and she and her daughter are still there. Louise says that while she is ‘delighted’ to have a roof over her head it is ‘horrible’ living there.

24/6/2014.The Housing Action Group Protests Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

‘Living off pot noodles and cereal’

She says it is really horrible having no cooking facilities – she says she ‘can’t even cook a slice of toast’ and they are ‘living off pot noodles and cereal’. Her daughter suffers from anxiety and she herself suffers migraines.

“It is a very hard living out of bags and out of one room”. There is no privacy because she is effectively living her life in front of others in the hotel. As any parent knows, it can be challenging at times to deal with young children and keep them well behaved in your own home.

For Louise, she is worried when they misbehave in front of others in the hotel will she be asked to leave her room. Her daughter is making her communion in May next year and the council have told her that it could be ‘eight months to a year’ before they have housing for her. Louise explains that the house she was forced to leave was put up for sale and is ‘sitting there empty’.

Boarded up houses 

She believes the council should ‘fix and open up the boarded up houses to provide housing’. Danielle was renting and also had trouble with her landlord not doing basic repairs such as ensuring there was hot water and heating.

She too was told there was no emergency accommodation available. She then rang around lots of hotels but the only one available was in Dun Laoighaire. She had no money to get there and her three children go to school in Coolock.

Out of desperation she took part in a sit-in protest in DCC offices in Coolock to try get some response and was then put into a hostel for two weeks but it was ‘not a nice place for children’. She has since been moved to a hotel but explains it is “not a way to live, with the kids living off fast food – its unhealthy, stuck in a room with nothing’. She can see the children’s behaviour changing, ‘getting worse and misbehaving’.

2/12/2014 Jonathan Corrie Homeless People Found Dead Former Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke laying flowers for John Corrie, the man who died just metres from Leinster House. Source: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

‘They are stuck in this room’

“They can’t play out like they used to with their friends on our street. They are just stuck in this room. School is the only bit of normality they have but even there they are teased about being homeless. The kids are saying to me that they hate me because they think it’s my fault. Now they are asking about Christmas and where they will be and I don’t know what to say to them”, Danielle explains.

Aisling believes that the caps on rent allowance should be lifted, rent control is needed to stop the rent hikes, and there should be proper tenant protection and education for tenants about their rights and services available to them.

NAMA properties should also be used for social housing. Aisling is worried that the housing crisis is going to get ‘much worse’ because “repossessions are going to take off, more properties will be sold and the rent allowance won’t cover rising rents”.

That is why “community based” action is needed. She hopes that by bringing these parents together they can “empower themselves to get their voices heard, find out about the services available, learn about their rights and help others to fight for those rights”.

Aisling and Danielle will be speaking along with Peter McVerry, housing experts, academics, trade unionists and activists at a conference in Dublin on Saturday that is open to the public. The conference ‘Towards A Real Housing Strategy’ will be discussing measures that could address the crisis such as what the government should do in the coming Budget.For details on the conference click here.

Dr Rory Hearne is a researcher & lecturer in Maynooth University. He has written and researched extensively on the issue of housing in Ireland including his book Public Private Partnerships In Ireland and chapters in Private and Public Renting in Ireland and Spatial Justice and Irish Crisis. He is also an active campaigner on housing and human rights issues.

Read: ‘The Irish public are not sick of politics, they’re actually sick of listening to politicians’>

Read: ‘You’re an adult and your parents are fighting, but it’s not your job to fix their relationship’>

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About the author:

Rory Hearne  / Post-doctoral researcher

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