‘I tried to make it like an adventure for the kids’

Homeless mother of three spent eight nights in her car near airport with children

Estelle Sweeney, mother of three who lives in a Hotel, in Dublin. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Estelle Sweeney, mother of three who lives in a Hotel, in Dublin. Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Mon, May 5, 2014, 08:59

Estelle Sweeney (31) and her three sons – aged 11, nine and six – are one of 30 families living in a hostel in Dublin’s city centre. They have been there for almost three weeks.

They share a small room, with a single bed in which the younger two sleep head-to-toe, and a double that Estelle and her older son share. There is no couch, no TV , “not even a table for the kids to eat at”. Nor is there a wardrobe. “All the clothes are in bags on the floor.”

She drives from the hostel to Swords each morning to bring the children to school, a 50-minute journey.

The hostel in the Liberties area was contracted by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive at the end of March to help house the growing population of homeless families in the city. It provides breakfast only – of cereals, toast and tea.

“There is nowhere to keep food,” says Sweeney. “I bought a kettle, but I can’t keep milk or cheese or meat or anything. The kids are eating so unhealthy at the moment. I can’t even make fresh sandwiches. I buy cheese dippers, biscuits, fruit. For dinners we either eat out somewhere cheap, but I can’t afford that every night, or we have pot noodles in the room.”

Residents have to sign in each night and no visitors are allowed.

The family became homeless at the end of March when the landlady took back possession of the house she had been renting in Swords. She was given 28 days’ notice to quit, she says.

She called more than 30 rental agencies, but couldn’t find any that took rent allowance. Fingal council advised her to come back when she was actually homeless, she says, and then advised her to call the Dublin city homeless freephone number.“They told me they had no emergency accommodation.”

She went back to Fingal, she says, and they told her there was still nothing they could do. She says she and her children spent eight nights in her car, sleeping at the back of Dublin airport.

“I was so wary all night I wouldn’t sleep. I tried to make it like an adventure for the kids, but the older one knew. You try to protect them . . . but they hear the phone calls. It was freezing at night. I had duvets, but thank God it wasn’t winter.”

She was “really desperate to keep it quiet that we were in the car in case the social came to try and take my kids away”.

She describes trying to make the school lunches in the front seat and taking the children in to Blanchardstown shopping centre “to wash them and take them to the toilet”.

She presented at the Central Placement Service in Dublin and was eventually placed in the hostel.

Her father lives in England and she has a brother in Spain, while another brother and his partner have children in a small apartment. Her mother and partner live in a one-bedroom apartment and “it just wouldn’t work” to stay with them.

The father of the older two children lives in Spain and is not in contact, while there are legal issues with the father of her youngest, she says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m trying to figure it out. All I have been told is I have an ‘ongoing booking’ . I just feel lost.

“People will always say, ‘You should have family to help. You should have friends to help. But what if you don’t? I’ve always done this on my own. I’ve never been in rent arrears. I’ve always worked. I’d like nothing more than to work full time. I’m not looking for handouts – just for a bit of help getting my family out of a situation that was not of our making.”

A spokeswoman said Fingal County Council confirmed it was “committed to continued support of the family concerned in their efforts to secure accommodation”.