Of all the tough cases she’s heard about, the two-year-old who had problems chewing and swallowing stands out for Una Burns, head of policy and communications at homeless charity Novas.
Novas works with families and single adults who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – they’re living in B&Bs, hotels, emergency accommodation, family hubs, in overcrowded situations where they’re involuntarily staying with extended family/friends or are sofa surfing.
Adverse impacts on children in such situations are myriad. Burns says not having access to cooking facilities or nutritious meals is hugely difficult for families. Recalling the Mid-West-based toddler, she says weaning him onto solid food hadn’t been possible – living in a hotel meant no access to cooking facilities. “And with weaning so delayed, he’d developed problems with chewing and swallowing,” says Burns, who’s seen other milestones delayed too, including crawling/walking.
Older primary school children and teens feel heightened anxiety and shame and hide their living quarters from friends. “They don’t have playdates, sleepovers or birthday parties. Important life moments are overshadowed by where they’re living. They’re making their Communion out of hotel rooms.”
Burns cites some of the negative fallout for children in homelessness: the insecurity of not having a home, the trauma of having to move from wherever they lived, broken connections with networks, no chance to sit around a table or eat a meal Mum or Dad cooked. “The more of these adverse impacts experienced in childhood – and the longer they go on – children take the trauma with them into adolescence and adulthood,” she says.
The pandemic had two faces for vulnerable families, explains Burns. “The moratorium on evictions gave families – on the brink of homelessness – a chance to avoid it.” But for many, it was catastrophic, particularly last year’s first lockdown.
“Where extended family/friends might have said come over one night a week for dinner/to do the laundry, or Granny might take a child for a sleepover – this was all gone. Families were living in one hotel room for months on end with no break. How could anybody manage this, even the most resourceful resilient people?”
What’s key, says Burns, is preventing families from going into homelessness and – if it happens – reducing the time spent there.
Interiors brand Mimi + Martha is inviting people to do their bit for homelessness by buying their recently-launched ‘Colour Your World’ illustration book. A collection of sketches created and donated by five leading Irish designers, the family-friendly colouring book’s available for €10 on here.
- Novas worked with 5,700 people in 2020 including 1,910 children (900 of these children through its Christmas toy appeal).
- Novas works to prevent homelessness by advocating with landlords/councils and supporting life-skills including money-management and budgeting.
- The charity helps families develop other skills, e.g. cooking, household maintenance and skills bespoke to particular family’s needs.
- Novas supports homeless families to secure long-term accommodation, prepares them for/brings them to viewings and provides them with laundry vouchers, meals, nappies and baby products.