“I had to run away from the kids’ dad,” says Marie (*not her real name).
Now, she’s spent over a year under varying levels of Covid-19 restrictions, raising her children, now five, four and two, and searching for a home.
“There were no viewings for houses because of lockdown, so I spent pretty much a year not being able to do anything,”
Marie adds: “We got into a routine and they’re very good here: they’ll do things like take the kids to the playroom if you really need a break.
“But you just get into a routine and then we’re out of lockdown, so you’re bouncing from one routine to another, and then back into lockdown again.”
She gives a shrug.
“I’m not complaining, now. They’re after doing so much for me here.”
Since Marie and her children arrived, Edel House, which is Cork’s only emergency accommodation designed to cater to the needs of both single women and women with children, has undergone a large change of its own.
In April, it opened Phase 1 of its €7 million expanded facility, designed to give more privacy, dignity and independence to the women and children staying there.
The service had outgrown its former building, where 18 single women shared seven bedrooms, with communal toilets and showers.
Once both phases of the expansion are complete this Christmas, Edel House will boast 24 rooms for single women, and nine family rooms, as well as a large, bright, well-equipped playroom and, as part of Phase 2, an outdoor garden in a safe courtyard between the two buildings.
No single woman will have to share any more, and each room comes with a kitchenette and an en-suite toilet and shower.
Family rooms will offer a separate living area to sleeping quarters, allowing much-needed space.
Marie and her children have lived both in the old building and in the new.
“In the old building, everything was in one room,” Marie says.
“I had two sets of bunk beds, and they were basically next to the kitchen, and then we had a toilet. It was tiny.
“The baby was in her own bed, the two boys were in one set of bunk beds and I was in the other.”
How does the new accommodation compare?
“The extra space in here is very good. I have my own sitting room and kitchen, with a separate bedroom and no bunk beds. I have my own washing machine.”
“That sounds so sad, that I’d be delighted with that, doesn’t it?” she adds with a slightly sad little smile.
“But over in the other building there was a laundry room that the whole building were using.”
For Marie, the cancellation of viewings under Covid-19 restrictions caused a stressful delay in her attempts to find a home, but even working with the help of services, the rental situation is so dire that she’s had no success even since viewing restriction were lifted in May.
“I look for a place every day, but there’s absolutely nothing,” she says with a shrug.
“So we’re literally here till something pops up: it’s like a matter of luck, because if I got to see a house, there could be 60 people looking at it. And they want to take someone that’s working and has no kids, rather than someone that’s on HAP, with three kids.”
I was working before I had my eldest, and I was planning on going back but then I had my second. Now I have to wait until they’re all in primary before I can actually do something for myself.”
The children are benefiting from the extra space of their sleeping quarters, but in the meantime, Marie needs to keep seeing their time in Edel House as a stop-gap on the road to a new life.
“When we were moving from the old building into here, my eldest thought it was his turn to get a new house,” she says.
“I just can’t wait to tell them that we have a home. Everything will be a lot better when I have keys to a front door and they can have their own space.”
For Colette Foster, the manager of Edel House, April’s move has provided not only some additional welcome space and facilities, but has also helped the management of Covid precautions, which were more difficult in the previous building.
“In the old Edel House, at the start of Covid, our play room was our isolation room because we had a toilet and shower there, so that meant that if anyone had needed to isolate, when we still had women sharing upstairs, that’s where they would have gone,” Colette says.
There have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 amongst either residents or staff of Edel House. But Covid restrictions themselves came with their own impacts: regular supports such as youth clubs and intensive individual work were temporarily halted, although staff worked hard to compensate for those stoppages.
“We got a lot of help from TUSLA and we were able to provide tablets and laptops to every child for homeschooling,” Colette says.
Colette continued: “Homelessness has a huge impact on children. We know that a child who experiences homelessness is far more likely to experience homelessness again as an adult.
“It affects their self-esteem, and sometimes it’s not just homelessness but whatever led them to this experience, whether that be violence at home, or notice to quit and living in a family with a lot of stress as a result.”
Edel House have been able to restart some support services now, with groups on Tuesday and Thursday nights for the over eights.
Edel House is currently home to 17 single women and ten families, with children aged from two up to 12.
The ongoing homelessness crisis means the facility operates to capacity on an ongoing basis, and is likely to continue to do so when the second phase of renovations are complete at Christmas.
A Cork city emergency accommodation centre is halfway through an expansion that is improving the quality of life for the homeless women and children staying there
“The demand is high,” Colette says.
There’s an area of particular concern for emergency homelessness services in the city right now, she says: “There was an embargo on notices to quit during Covid, but a lot of them are being issued now and we are expecting people to potentially need emergency accommodation in the coming months.”
Future concerns aside, Colette and the rest of the Edel House staff are as delighted with their new facilities, as the residents are.
For Colette, it’s important to highlight the practical benefits the expansion brings to residents: so many of the challenges of homelessness come in the little things that most of us take for granted.
“The most challenging aspect of living in emergency accommodation is the lack of sleep,” she says.
“You’re sharing a small room with your children, or other women you don’t know, and then you’re expected to get up the next day and work really hard at getting out of homelessness.
The €7 million expansion to Edel House has been funded by TUSLA, HSE Social Inclusion and Cork City Council. But this hasn’t covered the cost of fitting out the new facilities.
“We’ve had to source €25,000 through fund-raising for furnishings,” Colette says.
“And of course, our fundraising has been really hit by Covid, too.”
Edel House accept online donations via http://www.goodshepherdcork.ie/fundraising/