Elizabeth Zion Newstalk/Rory Walsh

'It was two months before my Junior Cert': Elizabeth shares her experience of being homeless at 14

Focus Ireland’s Sponsor a Star campaign provides support for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“IT WAS VERY tough.”

Elizabeth Zion was homeless for seven months when she was 14.

After a long journey, she’s now a hopeful 17-year-old who is studying International Relations, Politics and Social Justice in UCD. As part of Focus Ireland’s Sponsor a Star campaign, she shared her story with TheJournal.ie.

“My mum, my two brothers, my two sisters and I were homeless from April to November in 2018,” she says. 

“We moved into an emergency accommodation hostel in Swords and by then it was only two months to the Junior Cert. It was a really disruptive change. I was forced to study on the floor of the B&B as there was no room for me anywhere else, and ants would crawl over the floor and all over my work.”

“But I was determined to do well in school. I didn’t want this to affect me succeeding. I wanted to make my mom and my family proud. I knew I was still more than capable.”

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Learning to cope

In order to handle the change, Elizabeth explained how she learned to “detach” from her age.

Detaching from my age and adopting a new age was one of my most useful coping mechanisms.

“It prevented me from feeling like I was developing into a normally functioning adult. It was easier for me to think my childhood had ended than to see it cut short by something so detrimental,” she says.

“Homelessness is a very dehumanising experience.”

Love and loss

Living in the hostel, Elizabeth learned that families “would come and go.”   

“You would be unsure that the people that you found support in and that you love would be there when you came back home.” She recalls some young girls who she developed a nurturing relationship with after they asked for help with their spelling the day she moved into the B&B.

“I realised that this relationship gave me a reason to be positive. I wanted to give the kids around me hope and encouragement and in turn I genuinely became encouraged by them that things would get better. This really helped me see the bright side of a terrible situation. 

“But those girls, who I found so much joy in, just left one day without a goodbye. I came back home from school and they were gone. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go though. People just come and go and you have to deal with it. I grew very accustomed to loss.”

Keeping it in

In the months leading up to losing her home, Elizabeth didn’t tell anybody what was happening. 

“I didn’t think it would happen, I thought that we would find a house and everything would be fine. I didn’t expect that it would have gotten to the point of homelessness.

“I didn’t tell anybody in the months leading up to it, because I found that if I was to tell people it would become real and I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want anyone’s pity, I didn’t want anyone to treat me differently, I didn’t want them to see me like I was a broken child, because that’s not who I am.” 

When Elizabeth and her family lost their home and moved into emergency accommodation, Focus Ireland assigned them a caseworker, Chris.  

“Chris was a face of encouragement for us. He gave us legal advice, helped us to navigate the system and gave us advice about housing and things like that. He was the perfect
representation of Focus Ireland – he was helpful and supportive.”

“Me and my brothers are in full time education, so through Focus Ireland he gave us three fully loaded Leap cards. I calculated that it was enough for me to get to
school and back for a year without even having to top up once. They also offered to pay for a few of the summer camps for me to really enjoy my summer and escape the dreary atmosphere of the B&B.”

“Focus Ireland brought us security. And they gave us much needed peace. Any concerns that we had would be answered. They did more than what they said they would do, and much more than what we ever expected them to do.”

Hope for the future

Now 17 years old, Elizabeth moved into a house in Lusk, Co Dublin with her mother and siblings in November 2018.

“God has personally taught me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and that my self worth and dignity are not tied up in what I have or don’t have. He taught me that my value stays the same no matter what – with a home or without a home. 

The experience has made me a more grateful and appreciative person, and taught me to be satisfied with what I have irrespective of whether I have a lot or nothing at all.

“My hope is just to make the world a better place. I want the children who are living in poverty in Ireland to lead happy and secure lives. I want to change the system for them, I want to bring equity. This is not the kind of world they should live in and homelessness is not what they should be going through at such a young age. I want to help those like me who are living in such circumstances in Ireland, and all around the world. I want to make a positive change.”

Will your company help fight homelessness this Christmas by Sponsoring a Star? When you Sponsor a Star, your company logo will be included on hoarding of the Focus Ireland Christmas tree on Grafton Street. Learn more about how to Sponsor a Star or sign up now here.