This Christmas, we've teamed up with Focus Ireland to share some of the incredible stories from people who have experienced homelessness. In the first nine months of 2018 Focus Ireland helped more than 13,000 people, a 6% rise in a year. Focus Ireland prevents people from experiencing homelessness and helps those impacted by homelessness to find a stable home. These are the personal stories, from childhood to adulthood, of loss, poverty, resilience and hope. We thank sincerely all those who have chosen to share their stories.
When a family becomes homeless they lose far more than their home. Every part of their normal life is destroyed.
Focus Ireland’s expert Family Support Team works tirelessly to combat homelessness. Many of them are even based directly with families in crisis, in emergency accommodation facilities all over the country. They begin to work with families in homelessness as quickly as possible – offering them the practical and emotional support they need before finally helping them to find a secure home of their own once more, every step of the way.
And the good news is, for Emma and families like hers across Ireland, that simple and practical support can make all the difference.
Shortly after she gave birth to her second child, a little baby boy, Emma’s life took a sharp and devastating turn. Without explanation, Emma’s partner left her and their young children, and their family home, which they had been renting for several years.
She couldn’t afford it on her own.
With a dire shortage of available homes to rent and with no family she could call on for help, Emma and her young family were immediately faced with homelessness. Within a matter of days she found them desperate and seeking shelter in emergency accommodation. “I remember that first night in the emergency accommodation hotel.” Emma says, sadly; “Danielle (my daughter) just broke down crying. I told her we were on holidays. But she just kept sobbing.”
As each endless day went by, Emma became more and more worried about the long-term damage that was being done to her children.
Like many other families in emergency accommodation, Emma was forced to raise her young children in one single room. There is nowhere to do simple, everyday tasks that we can sometimes taken for granted – like safely storing and preparing food, eating together as a family and having space to play for small children.
Instead, struggling parents like Emma have to prepare meals on the floor, while their family eats on the bed – often relying on take-away food to feed their children.
The enormous impact of these conditions on the health of Emma’s young children gradually began to show. “The kids kept getting sick,” Emma remembers.
And for Emma, the trauma of having sick children was made significantly worse by the stark fear of having no shelter to return to; “Once I had to take both of them to hospital. We were 15 hours in A&E so I had to get a note from the hospital to explain where I was so I didn’t lose the room.”
Besides watching the physical health of her children deteriorate, for Emma, the hardest part was seeing the emotional trauma take its toll on her otherwise vibrant daughter, Danielle: “I saw the changes in my daughter the most. She lost her glow. She wasn’t giggling and playing like she used to. That’s the hardest part to take. She had gone so quiet.”
But just as Emma felt hopeless and lost, Focus Ireland Key Worker Siobhan was there.
Siobhan is a Key Worker in Focus Ireland’s Family Support Team. Through their time in homelessness, Siobhan made sure that Emma and her children had all the support they needed, including making sure her children’s medical needs were met.
“When I met Focus Ireland I felt broken and helpless. But my Focus Ireland key worker, Siobhan, was great. She really saved me and the kids. There were many times when I thought I couldn’t cope. And I’d call Siobhan and she’d always get me through it.”
Importantly, Siobhan spent her time assisting Emma in the long and complicated search for a secure and affordable home.
Eventually, Emma found the home she had been praying for.
Emma will never forget the day she was told her family had a house; “I felt like I had won X Factor.” She exclaims, smiling; “I hugged everyone. That was down to Focus Ireland. No one else.”
But for Emma’s daughter Danielle, the emotional damage was all too real, and the news of their new home was met with fear and sadness. “When we were leaving the hotel she was very upset.” Emma explains; “She was just scared of moving again. It took me such a long time to convince her. I’d say, ‘this is our forever home’. But it took so long.”
This desperate reaction is the most telling part of Emma’s story. Focus Ireland’s Child Support Workers know that often it is only after the trauma of homelessness has ended that the real emotional damage can begin to emerge. That is why our staff continue to work with families and vulnerable children long after they have moved into their new homes. It is that sustained support that makes all the difference to children like Danielle.
Christmas can't come soon enough.
Today, Emma and her family remain safe and secure in their home. Danielle is still a little shy and a little cautious but, thanks to the kindness of Focus Ireland supporters, she and her family are now planning Christmas in their own home for the very first time.
“Just the thought of the kids waking up and coming down from their little beds and opening presents. I’ve already warned people that the house is going to be like Santa’s grotto!”
Every 8 hours a family is made homeless in Ireland. Together we can change this. Please help today by visiting focusireland.ie to make a donation, calling 1850 204 205 or Focus Ireland's Instagram. Visit our hub for more information.
Note: All imagery sourced from stock.