A leading campaigner on homelessness has said the plight of children growing up without homes is an evil that the public should be on the streets marching to oppose.
Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, president of Focus Ireland, was speaking as she launched the most urgent Christmas appeal the charity has ever had to make.
“The problem is much worse than what it was last year. This year we have over 3,000 children in bed and breakfasts. It’s awful, it’s devastating, it’s shocking,” she said.
“We should all be out on the streets about this. It is not only shocking and a scandal, it is evil because of the damage it is doing to people.”
Latest figures show 8,374 people, including 3,124 children, were in emergency accommodation in September, many of them now facing spending Christmas in single rooms in hotels or bed and breakfasts. Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy admitted when the figures were released a fortnight ago that progress on alleviating the problem was not happening fast enough.
Focus Ireland helped 290 families, including 556 children, to secure a home through its housing and housing support projects up to the end of September this year — 600 more than in the same period last year.
Sr Stan said while the charity was helping to house a family a day, it could not keep up with the demand as 2-3 more were becoming newly homeless each day.
The State backs its work but only covers 60% of its costs so the charity has to find €2 out of every €5 it needs by fundraising from the public and through corporate support.
“We depend on donations now more than ever to raise funds so our services can cope with the constantly rising demand. I am asking people to please give what they can afford to support our urgent Christmas appeal. Any donation will help us to directly support these families,” Sr Stan said.
She also called on people to recognise the extent of the problem and give it the attention a national emergency of its kind was due.
“People can help by contributing, but they can also help by volunteering, by pursuing public representatives who have responsibility and they can also help by demonstrating clearly to the powers that be that this is wrong.”
‘It all fell apart so fast we didn’t know what to do’
Three-year-old Summer has the brightest of names but her birth coincided with the darkest time in her parents’ lives.
In the middle of a dispute with their landlord, Summer’s mum, Sarah Moran, went into labour two months early and ended up with an emergency c-section, a premature baby, and no home to go back to when she left hospital.
“Within a few days of having the c-section, I had to leave the hospital and my baby in an incubator and go to the council and try to sort out emergency accommodation,” Sarah recalls.
“They told us they hadn’t anything so the council separated us and had us separated for a year and half.”
Sarah, and toddler daughter Zoe, now aged four, were put into a bed and breakfast with Summer while the girls’ father, chef Sean Wade, was put in a hostel.
That arrangement lasted a year and a half, but the family spent a further year in a hotel before finally securing accommodation through Focus Ireland.
After spending two Christmasses homeless, they still can’t believe their luck that they have their own front door and a secure place to call home.
“It’s a big change going from being compacted into one tiny little room and not being able to cook, not even being able to make toast. With the house we have now, we’re blessed,” says Sarah.
Sean urged anyone in a similar situation to seek help from Focus Ireland. “Homelessness can happen to anyone. Most of us are only a few months’ rent away from it. For us, when it all fell apart, it happened so fast that we didn’t know what to do.”
The couple now also have a son, one-year-old Sean, and say their children drove their determination not to let the ordeal break them.
“I’d say to other people don’t give up, just hang in there, it’s not going to last forever,” says Sean.
“But also, ask for help.”
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