A second chance for women made homeless by addiction, violence and abuse
With homelessness at crisis point in Dublin, a charity is struggling to help women who are overcoming domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking and addiction
You couldn’t walk through Dublin this week and be in bad form. The happiness was contagious as people basked in the sunshine, spilling out of restaurants and bars with big happy heads on them. High temperatures make a happy city.
But this week was also marked by another event, one that most of the merry crew celebrating the good weather won’t have heard about. This week we learned that, for the first time, more than 1,000 children – 1,034, to be exact – are registered as homeless in Dublin. Behind that figure, which is from Dublin Region Homeless Executive , lie tales of unbearable hardship.
This week on Morning Ireland, the programme that I copresent on RTÉ Radio 1, my colleague Laura Whelan spoke to “Mary”, a woman who had just been told that her time in her rented home was up. The landlord hadn’t been paying the mortgage, and Mary and her two children had run out of road: the bank was taking over, and she had to leave.
Mary has spent the 112 days since she was told that the clock was ticking on her house trying to find somewhere new to live, but there is nowhere that she can afford to rent.
The Simon Community published the results of a survey this week that examined the number of rental homes available to people who receive rent allowance or a housing-assistance payment.
If you get help from the State with housing costs you can rent only properties that cost up to the amount of that allowance; you are not allowed to supplement the assistance even if you can afford to.
In a survey of more than 1,000 properties, the Simon Community found that only 12 per cent of them would be available to people on social welfare.
Mary moved into a hotel room with her two children last weekend. She knew on Monday that only a few nights were available to her at the hotel and that her future and that of her family were uncertain. She and her children are homeless. She has been on the social-housing list for 10 years and was told that there is now a seven-year wait.
Mary’s story is not uncommon. It’s widely acknowledged that we have a housing crisis, and although the Government has committed to invest in social housing the need is so great as to be almost overwhelming.
For women this crisis is particularly acute. It’s one of the reasons I have decided to become an ambassador for an organisation called Daisyhouse. The charity operates in Dublin and houses women who have been through experiences that most of us couldn’t even imagine. They have become homeless following years of domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, loss of income, addiction, illness and other problems. Many were abused as children.
When they arrive at Daisyhouse they have already shown a commitment to try to get their lives back on track. They are drug- and alcohol-free and ready to participate in a range of holistic programmes to show them how to live again as productive and happy people.
I recently met one woman at Daisyhouse who is learning to live again. On the day I met her she was going to a gathering with new friends. She was terrified. She had never socialised with people she saw as “normal” before.
She wondered what she would talk to them about and worried that she might reveal who she “really” was to them. The Daisyhouse team were working with her that day to give her the confidence to be able to just be herself within a group – to be normal.
For most of us that is hard to understand. It is almost incomprehensible that somebody might have lived a life in which a conversation with people who have not been homeless, abused and poverty-stricken is a terrifying prospect.
Daisyhouse does all of its work without Government funding, which ceased in 2011. It has the capacity now to care for about 15 women at any one time; what it would love to do is expand the model all over Ireland.
The organisation must deal not only with its financial crisis but also with the wider housing crisis. Because when their time is up at Daisyhouse, after about 18 months of living there, these women often have nowhere to go.
They risk having all of their hard work undone because they have no place to call home.
The sunshine makes many things seem better, but not even the welcome blue skies can conceal the fissures created by Ireland’s worsening homelessness crisis.
Claire Byrne is a Daisyhouse ambassador