‘This isn’t what I ever imagined for myself or my kids’

Charlene Murray and her children are one of 170 homeless families living in Dublin hotels

Charlene Murray from Shankill, Co Dublin, with her five children: Casey (12), Zara (10), James (8), Kealum (4) and Skye (4). The family have been living in a hotel in Citywest for the past three months. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Charlene Murray from Shankill, Co Dublin, with her five children: Casey (12), Zara (10), James (8), Kealum (4) and Skye (4). The family have been living in a hotel in Citywest for the past three months. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 01:00

For the past three months, Charlene Murray and her five children have called a hotel room in west Dublin home.

“This isn’t something I ever imagined for myself or my kids,” says Charlene, originally from Shankill, Co Dublin. “But with the way things are, I don’t have any other choice.”

She and her young family are the face of a new and emerging wave of homeless families.

In all, more than 170 families – including 500 children – have been allocated hotel rooms as a measure of last resort by local authorities in the capital. Typically, they lost their tenancies after hikes in rent or because their landlords opted to sell their property.

The day for Charlene and her family begins at 6.30am. She gets out of the bed she shares with her 12-year-old daughter Katie. The other children, ranging in age from four to 10, share the other b eds.

The race to get ready for school on the other side of the city in Shankill begins, a journey which can take about an hour in the morning rush-hour.

The hotel room is tastefully decorated in shades of greys and has a TV, desk, trouser press and a tea-maker.

But it’s not designed for a young family. It’s too small and there are no facilities to wash clothes or cook proper meals, so Charlene relies on the goodwill of friends and family to get by.

Rent allowance
“This feels like a living nightmare,” she says. “It’s chaos. The kids are bored. They’ve nowhere to play, nothing to do.”

Once the kids are dropped off just before 9am, Charlene drops into family or friends and keeps an eye out for accommodation.

With rent allowance, she could afford a place costing between €950 and €1,000 a month. But a house or apartment with enough room for her family costs between €1,400 and €1,500.

“Landlords don’t want to know you if you’re on rent supplement,” she says.

“And even if they do, finding somewhere within the limit of the rent cap is impossible.”

Ironically, she estimates the cost of the hotel room – paid for by the local authority – to be more than €3,000 a month.

Charity workers such as Pauline Burke of Focus Ireland are seeing more and more uprooted young families like Charlene’s, with no history of homelessness.

A year ago, about eight families a month were referred to the charity. That number has since shot up to about 30 referrals each month.

“Families are spending longer and longer in these types of setting. We have teams looking at affordable accommodation on property websites every day, but there’s very little available,” she says.

It i s also chronically insecure. While hotels are happy to take bookings during the off-season, the summer tourist season means it will be harder still to find hotel rooms.

Margaret, a mother of three from Blanchardstown, is one of those affected already.

In a B&B on Dublin’s North Circular Road, she i s unpacking two suitcases filled with clothes and toys.

She had been staying in a hotel for the past week after her landlord was forced to sell the property she was renting.

When the hotel notified her in recent days that it had no room for her, the local authority sourced a B&B at the last minute.

It is a roof over her head, at least, but she i s worried about the impact on her three children, aged six, four and nine months.

“I feel frightened here. Next door, there are drug addicts. I’m not used to living like this. And I feel I can’t let my kids out of this room.”

Charlene, too, is worried about her children. Their diet is poor because dinner is usually a take away, bought on the journey back from school. In evening rush-hour, it takes from 45 minutes to an hour.

The long commutes and cramped living conditions are taking their toll, she says.

“The kids’ behaviour has gotten worse. They’ve no space, they’re all on top of each other. By the time we get in the door in the evening, everyone’s exhausted.”

Homework is done in snatches on the beds or at the desk. Soon it’s time for bed.

“It’s hard to live like this,” she says. “You worry how long you can keep it up . . . All you can do is take things one day at a time.”