STARK images of those affected by the national housing crisis give us all pause for thought.
Children doing homework in hotel rooms, families sleeping on hard plastic chairs in a garda station, and makeshift tents pitched at the side of St Patrick’s Quay.
What we don’t see is the impact of the housing crisis on those with disabilities. Yet, a lack of affordable, fit-for-purpose housing is an issue that organisations involved with this group are increasingly seeing.
Jack* (not his real name) who uses a wheelchair and is highly dependent on a team of carers, has been on the housing list since his father died in 2009.
He lives on a housing estate in a town in North Cork in private rented accommodation that costs €850 per month.
He receives disability benefit and rent allowance and pays more than €200 towards the house every month. This leaves him with around €140 a week to pay his bills, buy food and fuel and to cover some transport costs.
Jack attends Rehab Care twice a week where he does drama and computer studies.
“The rent is terrible and I have to order fuel now for winter,” he says.
“I lost my dad ten years ago and I’ve been in support services since 2009. The rent was €750 but the landlord bumped it up to €850 recently and I’m frightened it will go up again.
“I hear people on the news who can’t afford to pay for houses. Any money I get for my birthday from my mum goes on living, I can’t go on holiday. Rent of €850 is for people with a family, I don’t have a family.”
As well as being expensive, the home is hard for him to get around. He is so fearful of some of his neighbours that he locks himself in as soon as his carers leave.
“The door frames of my house are a bit narrow so getting in and out of the rooms is a bit tough. The carers go out for three hours a day and I lock the door for safety and play my computer.
“I’d like a place where there’s a garden where I can sit outside. I hate sitting inside sometimes. I can’t get out of the house if there’s a fire…
“The people across the road aren’t very… they grab my wheelchair and push me backwards and forwards, at night they beep horns and shout a lot.
“It’s very uneasy, sometimes I feel frightened. I don’t talk to them or interact with them at all.”
Jack’s Rehab Care key worker says housing issues are a growing source of concern for her and the service users.
“Families supply the main caring role for people who use our services, once a family member passes on we’re in a grey area as to what’s going to happen to a loved one who needs extra care. They’re hidden, and not on the housing list as they’ve been living in the family home. I see it increasing and there is a fear of the unknown. If they don’t have advocates or staff pushing for them, they’re missed, as everyone hit by the housing crisis is fighting for themselves.”
Recently she called a meeting to discuss the future implications of the crisis on another of her service users, a man who lives with his 82-year-old mother in a remote, inaccessible area.
“He’s not going to be able to manage independently and he relies on his mother 100%,” she says.
Indeed, a recent survey of people who use Rehab’s services found 73% of them lived with parents or family, while only 14% were on the housing list.
However, 63% said they would like to live independently. Of those 70% said money was the biggest obstacle they faced.
National Learning Network student Sarah Rea is 27, and has just got a new one-bedroom home in Cork City through Focus Ireland having spent two years using their services.
During that time she was staying with friends and family, instability that affected her ability to concentrate on her coursework.
She has a two-year contract on her new home and will remain on the council housing list in the meantime in the hope of finding somewhere permanent.
“Moving around from my gran’s to my mother’s was stressful with trying to study,” she says.
“I still managed to come into the college everyday even though I was stressed out.
“I wanted to keep my education,” she says.
NLN helps students of all abilities build confidence and learn skills that will help them to reach their potential in employment. Sarah is studying Information Process and says the course has helped to strengthen her communication and writing skills. Sarah is also a talented amateur photographer.
An exhibition of her work, ‘Home, More or Less 2018’ in conjunction with Focus Ireland, opened at Cork City Library in August. Her exhibition uses captured images of what home means from her and others’ perspectives.