He spent much of the past year living in his car and Cork man Craig says he’s “over the moon” to get the keys to his own home.
Craig moved into his new apartment in Fermoy, Co Cork, last week. “The minute I landed, the moment I came in the door, I was grinning from ear to ear, all the anxiety I had been feeling lifted,” he said.
Craig is one of a growing number of people without homes whose lives have been transformed in part due to an increase in rental properties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and also due to a co-operative drive by the national homeless and housing charity the Peter McVerry Trust and local authorities which aims to reduce the number of people waiting for homes nationally and in particular now in Munster.
Mental health issues led to Craig, aged 30, living in his car. “My life was totally disrupted and I moved into my car at the start of spring 2019, I can remember is that it was cold at the time,” he told the Irish Examiner. “I ended up living in my car until wintertime. At night, I would drive to beaches, piers or woods and park there to sleep.” After months of living like this, Craig was given a room in a B&B.
“I had no money to spare as my car was just drinking the juice,” he said. “I got a place in a B&B through Cork County Council. I didn’t realise it was available to me.” Getting a good night’s sleep was difficult for Craig during the past 12 months.
“I would wake up about five times a night when I was in the B&B,” he said. “And I’m 6ft2, so when I was sleeping in my car, I couldn’t exactly stretch out on the back seat!” Craig describes the support from charities like the Simon Community, Cork Penny Dinners and the Peter McVerry Trust as “game-changers”.
Slowly, Craig built something of a routine, and the availability of regular meals helped.
“I would get up and have a morning meal thanks to Cork Penny Dinners and in the evening, I would eat a meal provided by the Simon Community. The food was just beautiful,” he said.
Moving from the city to Fermoy has already led to a new lease of life.
“I am over the moon. I love it. It’s very quiet here. I was sceptical at first as it’s 40 minutes away from Cork city. But the park is very close by now and so is the library. I have finished my first book in a long time,” he said.
“My TV is not up and going as yet but I have my guitar and my PlayStation bought a soundbar. I have lots of books from over the years that I couldn’t read To be honest I used to be a big bookworm up until about third year in school but I have had no problem picking it up again!
"I went back to Cork and collected all the books that had been bought for me over the years. I am also big into music and swimming. There’s a library directly across the road from my apartment and I will join that and the pool, which is also nearby and I will be doing very well! It’s a competitive pool.
"I used to swim three mornings a week and I am a beach lifeguard. I’m also a qualified mechanic but I found it very hard to work with mental health issues.” Tweaking the interiors to suit his tastes is also a project he is looking forward to.
“I have a friend who does very cool work. He painted a picture of me and my guitar. I will get him to paint pictures for my house, pictures of my son,” he said.
“I have bumped into to some of my neighbours already and had a quick chat with one guy which was nice.
“It was a mental health issue that led to this situation for me. When I became unwell it disrupted my life,” he said. “I would not be allowed to see my son. I am seeing my son now.
He’s delighted to see me too. He’s going on two.” Achieving a routine was “a challenge” over the past year, he says.
“But I kept busy. When I was living in the B&B my girlfriend would meet up with me and so would a couple of friends. I also became friends with other people in the B&B. My girlfriend has come to visit me in my new home already.
“I have just got a routine back and I’ve started exercising again. It’s a good kick in the ass.” GIVING new tenants the key to their new homes is the best part of the job for Peter McVerry Trust CEO Pat Doyle.
Pat and his team helped several people, who were previously homeless, move into new apartments and houses in Fermoy, Co Cork last week.
One particular family, including a teenager, who had been in unsuitable accommodation, left a thank-you card for him. “I always feel upbeat when it comes to housing and giving people the keys to the door is the best part of it all,” Mr Doyle told the Irish Examiner.
“I am just blown away by it. There’s a real sense of newness here in Fermoy units.
In situations like this, where you find a teenager can put up posters on their own bedroom wall, like my own daughter does all the time, it’s wonderful. It means giving that teenager enough sense of security that it will make a difference in how they view the world when they become an adult.
“Another lady told me this is the first time that she can go to bed later than 8pm in a long time.
"She had been sharing one room with her children and had to go to bed when they go to bed.” Already established in Limerick, the Peter McVerry Trust confirmed it is working with local authorities throughout Munster, in Cork -city and county- as well as Kerry (Killarney, Listowel and Tralee) and Ennis in Co Clare to provide accommodation.
Fr Peter McVerry of the Peter McVerry Trust said the main cost of a development such as that in Fermoy is “a capital cost and most of that was supplied by Cork County Council”.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio One, he said the renovation total came to 15,000-20,000 per unit (“to provide all the necessaries such as cooker, fridge and suite of furniture”).
“But in the end of the day it’s so well worth it,” he added.
“Money spent on first-class accommodation is money very well spent.” While in some ways the pandemic climate has offered something of a silver lining, he noted:
“In the longer-term we have a homelessness crisis. It’s an emergency and the Government has admitted it’s an emergency,” said Fr Peter McVerry.
Meanwhile, the trust welcomed a further reduction in the number of people in homelessness in recent months. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government recently published the official homeless figures for April 2020. which shows that there were 9,335 people homeless at the end of April, a reduction of 572 on the previous month.
“We’re delighted to see fewer people in emergency accommodation in April, the fourth consecutive monthly fall in people in homelessness,” said Pat Doyle.”There has been progress made in securing more homes for people to move to and we have also seen the number of people presenting as homeless decline during Covid-19.”
The trust has been working in partnership with the Department of Housing, the DRHE and local authorities, to identify, secure, and deliver new homes for people in its services and to others in emergency accommodation, added Mr Doyle.
“We have continued to get people into homes across a number of streams from HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) properties, to long-term leasing and newly acquired homes. We have also seen an uptick in new homes completed this year and allocated by housing associations and local authorities.”
Since the beginning of 2020 Peter McVerry Trust has helped to support 275 households into a long-term home with almost half of those securing a traditional social housing tenancy from a local authority or an approved housing body.
“We have been able to support 48 families, 35 of whom have progressed from our own family hubs which are run in partnership with the local authorities, 163 single people including people housed as part of Housing First, and 4 care leavers, a group who are particularly vulnerable.”
Mr Doyle also confirmed that its Housing First projects which operate in four regions across Ireland and form part of the Government’s National Housing First plan have been able to generate 61 new tenancies since January.