‘Most of the time you just cry’: Children speak about their experiences of homelessness

Focus Ireland releases new booklet amid concern child homelessness is falling off agenda

Amy and Monica, who wrote in Dear Government, a  new booklet by Focus Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Amy and Monica, who wrote in Dear Government, a new booklet by Focus Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Sadness about not having space to play or keep “big toys”, embarrassment when telling friends where they live, and recurrent “bad” memories about homelessness are among the experiences of children who lived in emergency accommodation.

Sisters Amy* (8) and Monica* (5), who lived in a family shelter in Ranelagh, Dublin, for several years, spoke to The Irish Times to coincide with World Children’s Day and amid concerns that child homelessness is falling off the Government agenda.

The charity is sending the booklet to all TDs and senators, calling on Government to prioritise ending family homelessness and to detail how it will do this.

The girls contributed to a booklet, published by Focus Ireland, titled Dear Government, in which homeless children explain what home means for them.

A six-year-old, identified as “E”, says in the booklet: “A home would mean I can get a dog. I don’t know what I would call it yet but it will be fluffy. My friends would come over and my dad can visit. No one can visit me here.”

Amy, Monica and their parents are now housed, but the feelings about not having a home remain strong. The family shared two beds in one bedroom, and had their own living and cooking area.

“The bedroom was pretty small. There was nowhere to go. We didn’t have space to put things,” says Amy. “We had to keep our toys in a box under the bed. If we wanted a toy we had to lift up the bed, which was tiring. We just had one window which was foggy all the time.

“After school we would just be bored. It was a really long walk to the park and there was no space really to play. There was one or two other children, but we weren’t allowed play with them or run around. We had to be really quiet. It was a bad experience and most of the time you just cry and get really bored. I was sad having no house.”

‘Very typical’

Their experiences are “very typical” of those of the 2,344 children who were homeless in the State at the end of September, 1,806 of whom were in Dublin, according to Mike Allen, Focus Ireland’s director of advocacy.

There is a “sense”, he says, that because child homelessness has fallen – from 2,583 in September 2020 – that “now it’s okay”. There was a need to redouble a focus on family homelessness, he said, because thousands of children remained “trapped in it”.

Capturing children’s voices was difficult but “extremely important”, Mr Allen says. “Their voices are powerful, give the real sense of what homelessness is for the child. There is a danger that child homelessness becomes abstract, but these are real little humans. And there is a political dimension because what they are asking for is so obviously right and basic.”

The sisters now share their own room and have “lots of windows and a big garden”, says Monica.

Asked if she ever thinks of her time in the homeless accommodation, Amy says: “Many times. Sometimes I dream about it. Sometimes I even cry about it, but I try not to think about it because it brings back bad memories.

“I feel horrible for all the homeless kids because I know how it feels. It’s just really a bad feeling and no one likes being without a house. I really hope the Government does something about it.”

*The girls’ names have been changed