Traveller couple sleeping in car ‘borrow money’ for B&B to escape storm

Support group concerned about couple, one of whom suffers mental health problems

‘It would be just too dangerous tonight to stay in the car. It was freezing.’ Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

A couple who have been sleeping in a car in Sligo for three weeks say they had to borrow money from a relative on Tuesday to get one night’s accommodation in a B&B to stay safe out of Storm Barra.

“It would be just too dangerous tonight to stay in the car. It was freezing,” said the woman. “We kept turning on the engine to get a bit of heat. I cannot borrow any more because I won’t be able to pay it back.”

The couple's situation has been highlighted by Sligo Traveller Support Group, which demonstrated outside the county council office on Monday as councillors held their monthly meeting.

The group has expressed concern for the Traveller couple, who have chosen to remain anonymous for now, saying the man has been undergoing a mental health crisis and needs care.


His wife delivered a letter to the council's housing section signed by a doctor attached to Sligo-Leitrim Mental Health Service, requesting that the couple be accommodated together because of the man's background.

The letter from the doctor confirmed that he had recently been an inpatient of a local mental health unit and was now in the care of the community mental health team.

Separate accommodation

The couple has previously been offered emergency accommodation in a local hostel, but not together: “I could not leave him on his own,” his wife said.

The couple, who are in their thirties, spent a number of nights sleeping outside the council’s office to highlight their situation, and have also been parking their car overnight at other locations around Sligo.

On Monday the council offered them a double room in an emergency hostel but the woman said this would have meant another resident having to move to a hotel. “My husband could not cope with that,” she said.

"Everyone knows that someone with mental health problems needs sleep and proper food. They can't cook food on the engine of the car," said Bernadette Maughan of the Sligo Traveller Support Group.

Group spokesman Jamie Murphy said he daily saw the impact the housing crisis was having on the mental health of Travellers, who are rejected by landlords even when they are approved for the Housing Assistance Payment.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland