When 'home' is a source of shame among children...

Whatever happened to decent public housing? Is a room of one’s own too much to ask for? So asks Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
When 'home' is a source of shame among children...

SHAMEFUL: One boy hid under a bed, visiting friends, as he didn’t want to go back to his emergency accommodation. Picture: stock

“I’M frustrated, minister,” said RTÉ’s Drivetime presenter, Mary Wilson, to the Housing Minister last week on the programme. She recalled doing a similar interview (about homelessness) with Eoghan Murphy last year.

“You have the power... to once and for all take action,” she said.

Clearly, homelessness is not one of those topics that requires ‘balance’ in order to be covered thoroughly by the media.

Drivetime journalist, John Cooke, reported from the frontline of homelessness for the programme last week, focusing on how it affects children.

It is hugely traumatic and a source of shame among children, who avoid bringing friends ‘home’ and can’t talk openly about having to share cramped living and sleeping space with family members.

Louise, a 17-year-old, would prefer to be at school this summer rather than live in emergency accommodation. Another girl said that during the school year, she had to do her homework in bed as there are cereal boxes on the desk in the room she shares with family.

“It’s not like living in a normal house,” she said.

A ten year old girl said that her teacher told her that she wasn’t homeless, but rather ‘houseless.’ Was this an attempt by a sympathetic teacher to soothe the child, to make the point that she has a roof over her head even if it what lies under it is totally inadequate, not fit for a family?

Another child had to be sent to counselling on account of his behaviour, resulting from living in emergency accommodation. He was very stroppy, wouldn’t do what he was told and if out in someone else’s home, would hide under one of their beds rather than go back to the hotel room.

And to think that our Constitution behoves us to cherish the children of the nation equally.

There are 3,749 children in Ireland that have no home and have to live in hotel rooms or hubs. In all, there are over 10,000 homeless people in this great little country of ours — a relatively wealthy country. How did it come to this?

How come many of us couldn’t afford to pay the kind of rent widely demanded by landlords that often constitutes more than a mortgage in this rip off nation?

It sure as hell indicates that capitalism has failed — unless you’re a rack-renting landlord, cleaning up, blind to people’s struggles. Our political class knows nothing about the reality of its citizens’ lives.

One woman, Kate, speaking on Drivetime, said that living in a hub is like a prison, worse than the war she fled from in Kosovo. There are twenty families existing in the accommodation complex that Kate is in — with just two cookers supplied.

There is something deeply wrong about families being stripped of their dignity as a result of homelessness when, at the same time, the cost of Donald Trump’s security detail on his recent visit here came to approximately €11million. For what? Free publicity for his Doonbeg golf course and hotel? It’s not as if Trump is respected much in this country. On the contrary, he is despised by many — apart from his serfs in Doonbeg, grateful for the jobs his business provides, and those who are fooled by populist and extreme rightwing politicians that are xenophobic and utterly protectionist.

In the meantime, while Trump and Boris Johnson cosy up, we can only look on in horror at the unfolding political landscape in which buffoons of the dangerous variety, make the most noise. In the UK, one of the ‘solutions’ to the housing problem is office-to-residential conversions. Some are as small as one third of the recommended size. They have been used a lot by councils to house people who cannot find alternative accommodation.

In a recent report in The Times, a flat, home to Angela Smith and her six-year-old son, Tom, is 17 square metres, “the size of two Ford Focus cars. There is no space for a table or chairs — just a double bed, shared by mother and son, a TV and a small kitchen unit. In the corner is a tiny bathroom with a shower, sink and lavatory.

Ms Smith (not her real name) has been living in Croydon House, a former office complex on the outskirts of the south London town. Her flat costs taxpayers nearly £800 a month. Croydon House is owned by a property company. Under ‘permitted development,’ office conversions are not subject to the usual space requirements.

A spokesperson for the Town and Country Planning Association said these spaces are “the slums of the future.”

He added that it’s “a really shameful way to be housing people in the 21st century in a wealthy nation.”

Whatever happened to decent public housing? Is a room of one’s own too much to ask for?

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