‘I wouldn’t wish homelessness on my worst enemy’

Charity witnessing significant rise in families presenting as homeless

Chelsea Harris and her children Ruby and Louie at their apartment in north Dublin inner city. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Chelsea Harris and her children Ruby and Louie at their apartment in north Dublin inner city. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 01:00

Standing in a brightly lit apartment on Dublin’s north side, Chelsea Harris is negotiating with her 3½ year-old daughter Ruby as to the number of stuffed toys she can take with her as they prepare to go out.

With a pink dog called Tillie under one arm and a Tiger- like teddy under the other, Ruby leads the family out of the flat which she, her baby brother Louie and her mother have called home for almost five months.

But this isn’t home in the traditional sense – the family occupies one of 19 self-contained apartments in Rendu, supported temporary accommodation for homeless women and their children provided by Depaul Ireland, a cross-Border support service for homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.

“It’s better than the hotel, but it still doesn’t feel like home,” says Ms Harris, who became homeless 16 months ago.

The apartment is bright and clean and has a kitchen, something the 20-year-old missed badly in the 11 months the family spent in emergency accommodation in a Ballymun hotel.

“It cost me a fortune living in the hotel, having to eat out every day,” she says.

“ There was no fridge, there was nowhere to hold milk.”

Ms Harris, who expects to receive the keys to permanent accommodation through a Dublin housing association within the next week, will soon have moved out of homelessness.

However, the stress of the past 18 months is still at the forefront of her mind: “It was the worst experience I’ve ever went through in my life. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” she says.

“You’re being told you’re a priority but you don’t feel like a priority,” she says. “You’re just thinking, ‘why is this taking so long?’.”

‘Changing face’

Ms Harris and her family are part of what Kerry Anthony, the chief executive of Depaul Ireland, calls the “changing face of homelessness”.

The organisation, which will publish its annual report next week, recorded a 30 per cent increase in the number of people accessing its services last year, partly driven by it expanding into prevention services and a consolidation programme which has seen it absorb three smaller service providers in the past two years.

Of the more than 2,000 people who used its services in 2013, just over half were living with addiction.

But Ms Anthony says the number of families, many of them single mothers and their children, who are presenting as homeless has grown substantially in the past two years.