Cruel reality of homeless life laid bare
THE human face of the housing crisis is laid bare in our interview with Jamie Harford, from Swords, Co. Dublin, a mother of two young children, the oldest of whom is nine and has cerebral palsy.
In many ways, Jamie’s story is a tragically familiar one. She is one of thousands of young mothers who, thanks to the severe shortage of public housing, have been thrown at the mercy of relatives and the authorities, while at the same time bearing the burden of raising young children in unsuitable accommodation.
The psychological toll on Jamie and her partner broke up their relationship, and all their savings have been exhausted on providing some pleasure for the children in their joyless hotel accommodation.
Jamie lived with her partner, the father of her children, until late 2013 in rental accommodation. He was unemployed and Jamie cared for their disabled son. But when their rent allowance was reduced, the family moved in with Jamie’s grandmother. This continued for almost two years but when Jamie had a second child it became unsustainable.
The family, who have been on the council list since 2011, registered as homeless in January 2016. They found temporary accommodation in a B&B where Jamie was pricked by a needle while making a bed. Jamie moved out and the council told her to find her own accommodation, which it would fund.
She found a B&B in Swords which she thought would be a stopgap. It cost €800 per week. But her relationship was crumbling and her partner, who still sees the children every weekend, moved to Donegal for an apprenticeship.
Jamie’s room at the B&B is not fit for purpose. The corridors are too narrow and steps make life very difficult for a wheelchair user. A communal sitting room is available for the children living there to do their homework but it’s on the second floor so Jamie’s son must do his work on the bedroom floor.
There is not even space for the child to do the daily exercises his therapists have prescribed. The therapists have written to the council, warning that the child is putting on weight as a result of the lack of exercise and the takeaway food they depend on because of the scant cooking facilities.
The answer to Jamie’s problems, as with so many other homeless people, including students and workers priced out of the rental market, is straightforward. We need more housing stock and incentives to encourage householders to provide digs, and perhaps more controls on Airbnb.
Before that can happen, we need a Government of conviction to release land banks for development and to push through a coherent building programme. Last week, we revealed 29 housing strategies have been unveiled, almost one a month, since the death of Jonathan Corrie in 2014. The Government’s determination to address homelessness has dissipated in a welter of reports and strategies.
In the 1950s, when the State had little money at its disposal, it managed to complete vast estates of council houses for the poor. All we need is the political will to do the same again.