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“We are living out of a suitcase and for my children, their childhood is slipping away from them."
“We are living out of a suitcase and for my children, their childhood is slipping away from them."

Housing crisis leaves Cork family suffering

A CORK family of three has been alternatively sleeping in a sitting room and a garage over the past 14 months after their landlord decided to sell their home.

Laura* has been staying with her sister on one side of the city and a friend on the other after she was served notice at her previous accommodation in Douglas.

Her landlord, who had decided to sell to get out of the rental market, allowed Laura and her two children to remain at the property for eight months in the hope that they would find alternative accommodation.

The same month Laura was made homeless, her family lost their social worker due to retirement.

Laura, 28, said she was unable to find a home with her two children who have autism.

She said she felt they were overlooked as a potential tenant because she has children.

“The landlords or agents can’t say they only accept professionals, but there are so many loopholes, they just don’t choose you. They can’t directly say no, they just choose not to say yes.”

At this moment Laura splits her time between sharing with her sister and her three children in a council house in Blackrock and staying in her friend’s garage in Wilton.

The mother of two also said she did not have the option of staying with her mother as she has a dog and Laura’s seven-year-old girl is terrified of them.

“I have to avoid everyone with a dog. I love dogs but my little girl is very scared of them, even if she can hear them outside she is worried. She will wet herself and everything.”

Laura described the situation she has been living in for the past 14 months.

“We are very overcrowded at my sister’s house. She has three boys.

“We are living out of a suitcase and for my children, their childhood is slipping away from them.

“It can be very hard. My little girl asked me could she have a birthday party to celebrate turning seven and all I could think of was how do you ask people not to bring presents because you have nowhere to keep them?”

With the help of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Laura has a budget of €1,200 and she is looking for a two-bedroom apartment or house for her and her two children.

“I can get €1,100 with HAP and I can afford to put an extra €100 on top of it myself. I can’t really spend anymore on rent because of other expenses. I have to be smart about it. I would end up in trouble financially otherwise.”

Laura said she couldn’t go into emergency accommodation because her two children had autism and it would be just too stressful for them.

“The kids would not have coped for 14 months in emergency accommodation. It is just not an option for us.”

Another thing that Laura soon realised is that it is very expensive to be homeless.

“You have no facilities to be eating at home, you don’t want to be getting in the way and you can’t be living on takeaways so you end up buying sandwiches for the lunches and single apples because you have nowhere to keep a bag of them.

“You could spend €30 on lunch for three each day.”

The young mother said she is doing everything she is supposed to be doing and it is very frustrating getting nowhere.

“Every week I am looking online at the choice-based lettings (council housing list) and putting my name down for everything I can. Then I go to Merrion House and build my case, explaining the reasons why I am suited to this particular letting, but we never get any further.”

Now the problem for Laura and her family is where do they go next?

“We were told when we declared that we were staying at my sister’s council house that we were only allowed to live there for a year. It is now 14 months since we moved in. Where do we go?”

Laura said space is definitely an issue at the moment, for her and her two children, sharing with her sister and her three boys.

“It can be very hectic. There is equipment for my kids and it is constantly being pulled apart. Everything goes missing. This set-up was only supposed to be short term.”

Laura said she thinks some of her friends might be avoiding her calls, for fear she asks to bring the kids to stay.

In the past few months, Laura has been dealing with Focus Ireland to try and make some progress in her search for a home.

“They seem to be the only ones who are listening at the moment,” Laura said.

Laura also recently got allocated a social worker who will be helping with assessing homes for her family’s needs.

Cork’s Head of Focus Ireland, Ger Spillane, said sadly there are quite a number of people in a similar situation to Laura and her family.

“It is affecting not just homeless people now, but right across the broad spectrum of society in that rents in Cork city are increasing so much.

“We have people coming to our advice and information centre here who are in employment and who just can’t afford to rent in Cork city now.”

Mr Spillane said someone like Laura is further excluded from the rental market.

“We recently went to see a two and a half bedroom apartment on the market for €1,900 on the northside of the city.

“Anyone who is entitled to HAP at the higher rent, that is still an €800 gap to be filled and unlike the old rent allowance scheme you couldn’t top up, but with HAP you can.

“So now what we are experiencing is in order to afford accommodation people are falling into food poverty.

“They can’t afford to buy food for their kids and for themselves because of the money they have to pay towards rent.”

Mr Spillane said this issue puts charity services such as Penny Dinners and Saint Vincent de Paul under strain as they experience an increase in people looking for food vouchers and things like that.

“I think services right across the board, are being put under pressure.”

*Not her real name.