Mothers join forces to fight for ‘new homeless’

Two mothers who joined forces to fight for homeless families like their own say they won’t give up until every family has a secure place to call home.

Tamara Kearns and Gwen Connell yesterday launched Housing Action, a campaign group run by and for the people they call the “new homeless”.

“When you talk about homelessness, certain images come to mind — often of drink and drugs. That makes it hard for people to speak out and to say ‘I’m homeless too’,” said Ms Kearns.

“The new homeless are ordinary people who have just been priced out of the market. They don’t earn enough to get a mortgage, because they’re earning they can’t get rent allowance and if they don’t have a wage, they find landlords won’t accept rent allowance tenants anyway.”

Four more mothers in similar circumstances joined the organising committee before the formal launch and a Housing Action Facebook site created yesterday morning had 150 supporters within hours.

While the founding members are based in Dublin, they’ve already had contacts from across the country and determined to make their campaign a nationwide movement.

Their aim is to force the Government to build more houses and to introduce rent controls for those renting in the private sector. But in the meantime they’ll be offering advice and moral support for families caught in the homelessness trap.

“It’s a national crisis and something has got to be done about it,” said Mrs Kearns, who is staying with her husband and two children in emergency accommodation.

“At this stage I am past all my fears of coming out and speaking up and I’m not going to stop until I have made a difference.”

The group was established as local authorities recorded on average a 42% increase in the number of people applying for social housing since last year and as homelessness campaigners warned of a dramatic increase in the number of families needing emergency accommodation.

Focus Ireland said it was now seeing 32 families become homeless each month compared to eight per month two years ago and Fr Peter McVerry warned of a tsunami of homelessness coming down the line.

The State’s Housing Agency has announced it will hold a housing summit on June 9 to bring together state, charitable and professional bodies involved in the housing sector to come up with short-term solutions to the problem.

Chairman Conor Skehan said he accepted Fr Peter McVerry’s warning. “We have a serious issue. What he says is correct. It will become a crisis if we don’t act.” He said if left solely to the construction industry to provide housing, there would be a delay of two years before the necessary new builds came on stream.

In the meantime, he said initiatives such as the recent allocation of Government grants to local authorities to get boarded-up homes back into usage was a positive step and more short-term responses needed to be found.

Harsh realities that homeless families face

By Noel Baker

* Anne, 29, has an 11-month-old baby, Tom, and is pregnant. Anne was living with her family of origin until a fire in their house meant they had to move out. Anne presented as homeless, thinking this would help with being urgently allocated local authority housing. This didn’t happen.

She has been homeless for eight months and been moved to seven B&B homeless centres. Due to the constant moving, Tom hasn’t been receiving regular check-ups and has missed vaccinations. Homeless accommodation has been unsuitable for him as he doesn’t have the opportunity to play or spend time on the floor to help develop his motor skills. The lack of adequate facilities affects Anne’s ability to properly sterilise bottles and provide the right food for Tom. She has also been unable to attend pre-natal checks to make sure her pregnancy is progressing as it should.

They have both witnessed drug use in a number of the centres. Anne’s isolation led her to a relationship that turned violent, which Tom witnessed. Living in B&B accommodation means they are either out all day, where he’s in the buggy while they wander around the city killing time, or in the B&B all day where he spends most of the day in the cot.

The lack of a proper home is affecting their relationship, Anne’s emotional and mental wellbeing, and Tom’s development and emotional health.

* Alice, 36, and Dave, 37, have five children and are expecting a sixth. They have been living in private accommodation, but the landlord they’re renting from has had his property taken over by Nama.

Agents have informed them of their intention to sell the house and given them a date to leave. While they are in some rent arrears, they have been paying consistently through an agreed arrangement with the landlord.

Alice and Dave have had serious problems trying to find another house through private renting. They have been refused a number of houses on the basis the landlord did not accept rent allowance. There is also a serious shortfall between rent supplement and the cost of renting to meet their needs and they would need increased financial support.

The family has struggled to be placed on the local authority housing list and it has also been suggested to them that the authority will struggle to find a house for them anyway, given the size of the family. They are likely be waiting “a while” before they can be housed.

They have been advised that if they cannot arrange private accommodation by the time they must leave their current house, they should go to the local council on the morning of their eviction and register as homeless. They will then be placed in emergency homeless accommodation (a hotel).

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