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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Opinion I never knew how easy it was to become homeless in Ireland until now

I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that a mere three weeks could change my life so drastically.

AFTER RETURNING TO Ireland almost two years ago following a four-and-a-half year stint living and working abroad, I took up a position on the JobBridge scheme to gain experience working in the Irish media sector. Then, six months ago I was offered a job in a marketing agency as a marketing executive.

Everything was running smoothly, I was slowly digging myself out of the financial hole that living on JobBridge supplement for nine months had gotten me into. I was just about breaking even and had drawn up a budget and savings plan that I wanted to start in 2015.

All these plans came screeching to a halt when, just after Christmas, I had to go out on sick leave from work.

I wasn’t entitled to sick pay from my employer or the State

I wasn’t being paid by my employer while out on leave so the next step was to go to the Department of Social Protection with my medical certificates in the hope of receiving some sort of payment. Two weeks after my initial application, I received a letter in the post stating that I would not be paid by the government because I hadn’t paid enough contributions, as I had lived abroad and then was on the JobBridge Scheme.

This came as quite a blow as money was quickly running out and the expenses of daily life – rent, bills etc were starting to catch up on me. Following a meeting with the Social Welfare office, I was advised to seek assistance from the Community Welfare Office.

After a short phone call, I made an appointment for the coming Friday at 9:30am as it was the only time we could agree, and as I needed to gather paperwork which was going to take a few days.

The last place you can turn to for help can’t help you

At the meeting I was told that I would not be paid for the three weeks that I was out of work and would only be paid from the date of the appointment (ie that day). I asked the Community Welfare Officer if there was anything else that could be done since I literally had €20 left in my bank account and no other source of income.

The response was to repeat the same sentence “We can only pay you from the date of this appointment”. The next time they could pay me would be in seven days’ time – four weeks after going out on leave and there was no chance of being back-dated from the start date of my leave.

It’s a strange feeling when you know that the last place you can turn to for help can’t help you. Emotions run riot. I felt angry at the system, ashamed that I had to get to this point in the first place and a complete sense of hopelessness. Before Christmas I had a job and an apartment and now, because of an illness, I could easily be facing homelessness.

With the shake of a Community Welfare Officer’s head I could be homeless

Thankfully I have a fantastic support system of family and friends who are all clubbing together to help me out of this bind. But I can’t help but think what would happen if, like so many others, I didn’t have this support system around me? What if I had no family that I could turn to and no friends that could help? With the shake of a Community Welfare Officer’s head I could be homeless in a week with no source of income, no home, and nowhere to turn.

There are countless charities in this country that are trying their best to help those who have found themselves in similar situations, there are volunteers who give their time and energy to help those who are homeless and countless fundraisers and charity drives have been organised to raise the vital funds needed to help people in this situation (I should know, I was Assistant Project Manager for a huge charity fundraiser for homelessness before Christmas!).

And yet, at the most basic, fundamental level, there is little to no assistance for people who have found themselves in a situation like mine or similar.

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would end up here but it is very clearly becoming a reality. I never knew how easy it was to become homeless in Ireland until now. I never knew that you could have no money in the bank and no source of income and still be turned away, and I never knew that a mere three weeks could change my life so drastically.

Due to the sensitive nature of this story, the author would prefer to remain anonymous.

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