Gina Ahern found it hard enough to be homeless but to be branded a fire hazard too left her in despair.
She and her young son were going through a series of bed and breakfasts after seeking emergency accommodation and couldn’t bring their belongings with them to create even the illusion of home.
“You can’t bring much with you. You’re not allowed because of fire safety. I could only bring one or two toys for my son,” she says.
“Even with clothes, you could only bring a couple of bags. If you brought another you’d be told to move it out of the room because the room is so small and it’s a fire hazard.”
Gina spent almost a year like this, storing her belongings with family members, doing her laundry in a relative’s house, struggling to provide proper meals without cooking facilities and feeling her son’s frustration at having nowhere to play. “It’s not a nice situation,” she says with understatement.
She became homeless when her landlord put up her rent and insisted she pay to fix the broken boiler. She could afford neither and the landlord wasn’t interested in a compromise.
“There was no negotiation,” she says. “You hear all the time about landlords putting up rents. I don’t think they care that it means people with kids end up out on the street.”
While staying in B&Bs, Focus Ireland worked to find more stable accommodation for her and eventually got an apartment for her in one of the charity’s own supported housing complexes.
“We got it just before Christmas that year. It was great to have somewhere and not to have to spend Christmas in a B&B.”
Gina lived there for three years but all the time had her sights set on regaining her independence.
“Focus Ireland worked with me and taught me about budgeting, managing my bills, cooking and all that. I move out into my own place in January this year so it was a like a Christmas and New Year’s present all at once.
“I still have the support of Focus Ireland so if I have any problems I can just pick up the phone to my support worker.
“But having my own place now is unbelievable. It’s brilliant. I’m much calmer now.”
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