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Janette Byrne

Opinion 'Homelessness in Ireland has many faces and come this June I could be one'

I am 57 years old, born and reared in Dublin. I started working when I was 15 but now I’m facing eviction from yet another rented property, writes Janette Byrne.

MENTION HOMELESSNESS AND most people in Irish society will picture those people who are tragically affected by drug misuse.

But homelessness in Ireland has many faces now and come this June I could be one of them.

I am 57 years old, born and reared in Dublin. I started working when I was 15.  In the late 1990s, I was proud when I started my own little business. 

But a cancer diagnosis and intensive chemotherapy put an end to that. 

I subsequently had a second cancer diagnosis but thankfully I was one of the lucky ones and I recovered to full health mentally and physically. 

I had bought a home back in the early 1990s with my then partner. Sadly eighteen years on we parted ways and sold the house.

Unfortunately for us, the timing was wrong and we both found ourselves struggling to get back into the market.

I had a deposit and I tried to get a mortgage but as a single woman, I could only get approved for up to €100,000. Obviously, that wasn’t enough to buy any property in the Dublin area.

It was so frustrating and unfair because I was paying €1000 a month rent and had never once missed a payment. Most of my friends who were in couples had lower monthly mortgage repayments than my rent payment – and they had two incomes. 

I was frustrated but with no other option, I just put my head down, worked hard and continued to rent.

Renting is fine in your 20s, sometimes it’s even fun, but in your 50s it really is a different story. I’ve moved four times in the last seven years.

As landlords sell-up,  I move on but each time the rent increases.

I am blessed that for the past four years I have stayed put and that my landlord was decent and left the rent at €1400. I also met my partner who can now share some of the financial burdens. 

For the past ten years, I worked as a senior manager in a job I loved - until I was assaulted in my workplace. It was a sexual assault that resulted in a court conviction.

The stress of that incident along with being overstretched in work took its toll. I became totally burnt out and had to leave my job. 

Now our landlord is selling the place we are living in and has issued us with a notice of termination. 

We have been blessed to have stayed this long but the timing for us is a nightmare.

I am currently working on setting up my new business venture in staff training while my partner has moved here from Scotland and is also developing his own business.

I still have some small savings but I have realised they are actually a burden on me as they exclude me from claiming social housing supports. 

The cheapest rent in our area now is €1,600 for an apartment. You show up to a viewing and there are twenty-five people ahead of you all wanting the place. 

If I didn’t have savings it would be better. If I hadn’t had cancer, it would be better. If we were ten years younger, it would be better. If I hadn’t been attacked at work. If I hadn’t bought and sold a house previously. IF, IF, IF.

Because we are not in full-time employment we also don’t look good to landlords. 

Every place we look for help one or more of these issues excludes us from getting it. 

The reality is that we don’t tick the boxes for the banks, the landlords or the council.

In desperation, we even considered spending the last of our savings on a log cabin to put in my elderly folks’ back garden.

Exploring this gave us some flicker of hope.  Living in 6 x 8 metre, one-bedroom unit didn’t faze us at all.

We were excited at the prospect of being rent-free for a few years, the possibilities to save a few bob and be relieved of the constant worry of receiving another notice of termination and once again having to leave our home. 

But would we get planning permission for such a structure? 

Unfortunately, last week  Dublin City councillors rejected a proposal that they should relax regulations on log cabins as habitation, in light of the housing crisis. 

I accept that log cabins should be regulated but I think they should be allowed if they meet requirements

Regulations could ensure that they are fire treated, that a family member is in residence and that the home is kept in good condition and built with consideration to neighbours.  

The decision by councillors has been a major set back for those of us who are desperately trying to avoid becoming the new face of homelessness. 

There are lots of victims of the housing crisis who don’t show up in the homeless figures.

Adults living with their parents, renters who struggle to afford the shameful high rents landlords demand.

Then there are those who are forced to emigrate to find another city where they can afford to both rent and save for a home.

Many of my own relatives have had to leave to make lives elsewhere, even with both partners in a couple working, they couldn’t afford to live and pay rent in Dublin. 

I feel ashamed and embarrassed by my situation as I feel that I am a burden on my family and friends. 

Every time I move house I lose part of my life – part of me. I just never feel at home in rented properties. 

My doctor says that  I need to “eliminate stress from my life”. Wouldn’t it be heaven if she could write a prescription for a house? 

It would definitely have an impact on my high blood pressure and ease my stress levels.

But for the moment it seems all I can do is dream and pray for my forever home.

Janette Byrne is the author of If It Were Just Cancer: A Battle for Dignity and Life - a personal story of her battle with cancer and the challenges she faced in the Irish health system. 

Following a cancer diagnosis in 2001, she became a health campaigner. She took an unprecedented legal case to force the health service to provide her with essential lifesaving cancer treatment. 

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