Women: the hidden homeless
A third of all homeless people are women, victims of sexual abuse, violence and drugs. Three mothers talk about how they cope with life on the streets
Living in drug-riddled hostels with her two remaining children meant having to go out every morning and not being allowed back until evening. There was no fridge or cooker. “Thursday and Friday were the only days my two kids got a really good dinner. I was paid on Thursday, and that was the day they got spoiled. The other days it was takeaways. Some days there was no food.”
The children consistently attended school only because they had nowhere else to go, Janet says. After school each day she and the two children would wander the streets, looking for somewhere warm where the kids could do their homework: a hospital or a library.
“Every night I’d be thinking, What am I going to do for money? In the morning I’d get up and get my fix. It was like the drugs came first, because for me to look after my kids I had to get that fix so I could feel normal. I was using drugs just to be able to look after the children. Now I am ashamed about things I had to do – robbing, other things.”
Janet recalls Christmas Eve with the children in a hostel, when she stayed awake until they were asleep so she could put their presents out without them seeing.
Janet was anxious to keep her elder child, a son, off drugs, but when he turned 18 he was no longer allowed with her in hostels and had to find hostel accommodation on his own. Soon he was using drugs, too. (He is now in rehab.) She blames the system for wrenching him away.
“When I lost my children, that was the lowest point in my life. You’d think it would make you stop using drugs, but you are so sad and depressed that I went 10 times worse on drugs.”
Alice Leahy emphasises the importance of meeting homeless women’s individual needs. “The human condition is complex, and the world of homelessness captures this complexity. Homelessness, however, is constantly confused with lack of housing.”
Dublin City Council’s draft plan aims to have no one sleep rough in 2016, but this is unrealistic if housing alone is seen as the solution, she says. Anthony agrees: “I feel strongly that we should not create more hostels. We need housing with wraparound supports, with a caseworker for each person.”
Sharon says that being given an apartment would not help in the long term without support. She fears she’d get a knock, dip back into a bad state and be homeless again. “I deserve better than this,” she says.
This Christmas, thanks to Depaul, Janet’s 11-year-old daughter is living with her. For the first time in 10 years Janet has her own tree. “This is going to be a great Christmas.”