Monaghan woman Claire* had just started a new job when things fell apart.
“I was so excited about my new job, it was a foot in the door into the career I’ve always wanted. I knew the month between jobs and the pay cycle meant I would have no money coming in for a few weeks but I thought I could squeeze by, using my overdraft if needs be until my pay came in.”
Claire was devastated when, in the first week of her new job her car broke down and she was told it would cost thousands to repair.
“Suddenly I went from delighted and excited to a deep depression. I had to hire a car to get to the job I’d just started and I realised that with all the costs of the hire car and repairing my old car I wasn’t going to have money for food, bills or rent. Suddenly I was faced with the possibility of homelessness.”
For those who work and have children the stresses of having to secure accommodation for your family each day make maintaining a working career next to impossible.
Claire had no one to borrow money from. She tried contacting social welfare for help but they said they could do nothing for her. In desperation she contacted Saint Vincent de Paul. “They gave me €60 worth of food vouchers so that at least meant I could feed my kids, but I still had no money for rent, my bills or the car costs.”
Claire became so distraught that she says she thought about taking her own life. “It all seemed so hopeless, no one would help me. I couldn’t provide for my kids and I didn’t know how I would tell them we had no where to live, no where to keep all their things. I couldn’t see a way out… I thought my kids would be better off without me.”
Realising she was in a deep despair Claire sought help from Pieta House and was offered emergency counselling for her suicidal ideations.
While homeless, Mel was still applying for jobs, hoping to find something well paid enough to secure her and her daughter a house.
Derry woman Mel Bradley was working two jobs when she and her daughter became homeless. Having lived for 4 years in an increasingly dilapidated house that the landlord refused to repair Mel contacted Environmental Health and asked them to do an assessment on the property.
The house was found to be too dangerous for habitation and Mel was given a short notice to leave. Mel had no where else to go and so was forced to declare herself homeless with the Housing Executive in Derry.
Mel was told that because she was working she would need to save up enough money for a deposit on a house and that she would not get any financial support to pay a deposit or rent.
“So, there I was, homeless, officially, the things I’d worked hard to build up over the years were being shipped off to Belfast in a container, I was feeling pretty hopeless.”
I did go for a job interview and I did say that I was currently homeless and the address on my application was no longer valid.
Mel and her daughter couch surfed at friends houses for a few weeks, with Mel still working her two part time jobs. While homeless Mel was still applying for jobs, hoping to find something well paid enough to secure her and her daughter a house. She says she feels she faced discrimination while job hunting due to her homeless status.
“I did go for a job interview and I did say that I was currently homeless and the address on my application was no longer valid. That I was unsure where I would be living or what my address would be over the next few weeks and if possible could they email the response to me. They didn’t, I didn’t get the job and the rejection letter was sent to my previous address.”
“The hardest part of going for job interviews during that process was having to be focused, having to try and give my best and keep myself together when every part of me felt like a failure. I still feel a little bit like a failure.”
My friend told her Mum that I was homeless and trying to save to get my own place. Her Mum’s response was ‘but she’s working’
Mel says she feels most people do not understand in-work poverty and that people assume working people must be doing ok financially.
“When we staying with my friend, sleeping on her sofa, her Mum asked the question as to why I was staying there. My friend told her that I was homeless and trying to save to get my own place. Her Mum’s response was ‘but she’s working.'”
“It struck me that there is such a down and out stigma to people who are homeless. I was homeless because I had a landlord who didn’t want to do the repairs.”
Eventually Mel was able to save enough money to secure a deposit and a months rent in advance on a house for herself and her daughter. However she was recently made redundant from one of the jobs after the funding for her position ended.
“In a couple of months I’ll be facing the scary prospect of, do I have enough of an income to continue paying for this house that I love, that has become home. And I’m terrified.”
Mel has been trying to get more work but is having trouble finding anything. She is not sure if she will be able to afford to stay in her house.
“I worry about keeping a roof over my head… I do not want to be homeless because I can’t afford the rent.”
As the supply of beds has dried up, Dublin City Council make people self accommodate, which means they get a list of hotels and then have to make reservations themselves.
Louise Bayliss is a founder of advocacy group S.P.A.R.K and also works for a homeless charity. Louise says stories like Claire and Mel’s are common. With record numbers of homeless families and very few new houses being built, the councils in Ireland have put the onus on homeless people to self-accommodate.
Those juggling work and family commitments are especially hard hit by having to move about from night to night.
“The situation has become dire. As the supply of beds has dried up, Dublin City Council make people self accommodate, which means they get a list of hotels and then have to make reservations themselves and generally the length of their reservation is shorter. In reality, this means that families have no security at all, must constantly book new rooms and generally are further away from their original home.”
I really believe this despair is why the suicide rate is rising for single mothers in Dublin.
“Families are really struggling. If they can’t get a room, they feel guilty and the council gets off the hook. I really believe this despair is why the suicide rate is rising for single mothers in Dublin. 2/3 of families in this situation are lone parents headed by women.”
Louise says that being homeless also forces people out of the workforce and that lone parent families are especially hard hit.
“Lone parent families are away from their support networks that allowed them to work. In addition, the commute to get children to school and the emotional energy involved in self accommodating means that any lone parent who I know that was working has been forced to give up their job.”
Claire and Mel have both experienced in-work poverty, where the remuneration for the work they do barely covers the cost of living and supporting children. There are no supports available for women in need of short-term financial help like Claire, and as Mel found, even trying to get a job while homeless is difficult.
According to the last CENSUS in Ireland, 1 in 5 homeless adults have a job. For those who work and have children the stresses of having to secure accommodation for your family each day make maintaining a working career next to impossible. “It really is depressing.” says Louise, “I know more families in emergency accommodation now, but not one of them has managed to stay working, so the situation is definitely getting worse”.
*Claire’s name has been changed to protect her identity
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About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.