Deborah Somorin was 13-years-old when she became homeless in Dublin over 10 years ago.
"It breaks my heart when I think of the 3,194 children who are currently homeless in Ireland, " Somorin says. "The first 18 years should be the best time of a child's life, they should have to worry about adult things like where am I going to eat and sleep tonight."
Today, the 24-year-old is working for PWC in Dublin and will qualify as a chartered accountant next year. The Dublin woman was one of a number of young people who took part in a youth summit organised by the National Youth Council of Ireland and Concern to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The aim of the summit was for Ireland's UN youth delegates, Lauren Flanagan (24) and Paul Dockery (22) to consult with the 300 young people who attended the event and gain insight into what matters to them.
Youth homelessness was one issue that was at the forefront of the event.
“Becoming homeless at 13 was a very frightening experience for me. I had to move into emergency accommodation when I no longer could live with my family. I remember the night I arrived at the sheltered accommodation every single day.
"The staff who worked there had to lock me into my room at night for my own safety, because I was so young and there were other residents living there, so that was frightening for a young girl," Somorin told The Irish Times.
The 24-year-old recalled her arrival at 2am at the emergency accommodation which she had been taken to, and the sense of “loneliness” which the night brought with it.
“I remember just wanting to go home to my family but that wasn’t possible. My heart truly goes out to every child that is currently is homeless in Ireland. It’s truly heartbreaking because I was that child, and I can remember the fear that’s attached to being homeless,” she added.
The following year, aged 14, Somorin became pregnant with her son Liam and at the time was living in homeless accommodation aimed specifically at teenage girls.
“Tusla had placed me in a residential care home and it was while living there I fell pregnant. My biggest fear was whether or not I would have to leave what had essentially became my home.
“The house was transformed into a mother and baby unit and I 100 per cent believe that’s why I am in the position I’m now in today. I had stability until I was 18. The staff helped me in every way possible. My dream was to become an accountant and at the time I felt this was lost.”
With the support of Focus Ireland, Somorin stayed on in secondary school and later entered DCU through the access programme at the university.
“I studied accounting and finance for my undergraduate and then went on to study a masters in accounting. I’m very blessed that I got the support the whole way through, I’m now living my dream working in accounting at PWC.
“My employers have been a wonderful support to me and encouraging me in speaking out and sharing my story. My son Liam is turning nine next month, and I believe we need more supports for homeless children in Ireland.
“These kids didn’t do anything wrong or deserve to become homeless. It happens but it’s not okay to turn a blind eye. We need to hammer home the point that this is and should only be a temporary situation for children. Children growing up in homelessness is not acceptable and I’m living proof that with the correct support, anything is possible,” she said.
The 24-year-old says that it is “distressing” to hear the stories of young mothers struggling in emergency accommodation and deaths by suicide.
The annual summit which took place in the Aviva Stadium aimed to raise awareness about the UN agreement in September 2015 where 193 world leaders committed to 17 sustainable development goals to end extreme poverty; fight inequality and fix climate change by 2030.
Valerie Duffy of the National Youth Council of Ireland noted that young people are key to achieving the goals at local, national and global levels.
“This summit will feed into Ireland’s report to the world. We can be the first generation to end extreme poverty and the most determined generation in history to end injustice and inequality. This is a really important time,” she said.
Concern Worldwide's Head of Active Citizenship Michael Doorly told the 300 young people in attendance that they were at the beginning of a 15-year marathon to achieve the global goals and that it was up to the youth of today to "finish the job".
The summit also forms part of the EU Structured Dialogue consultations, known as ‘Young Voices’ in Ireland, which allows young people to feed into the EU policy making process.