Cruel re­al­ity of home­less life laid bare

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT -

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.

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