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 personal stories, from childhood to adulthood, of loss, poverty, resilience and hope; stories that have been written as a result of collaboration between Catherine Dunne and Focus Ireland. We thank sincerely all those who have chosen to share their stories.
‘The first time I met Michaela, my careworker, I knew we were going to be a perfect match.’ Michael grins at the memory. ‘I think she was expecting me to ask her for loads of things. But all I said I needed was a medical card and my hernia looked at.’
That was the start of the ‘dream team’, as Michael calls it. A close working relationship between a vulnerable young man and a dedicated Focus Ireland careworker: a young woman who supports her customers with professionalism and compassion. ‘She goes above and beyond for me every time,’ he says. ‘I can’t thank her enough.’
Michael is very clear about his need for ongoing help. ‘So many people don’t want to accept support,’ he says. ‘They don’t want to move forward in their lives. But I do.’
In his original home, certain relationships had become impossible so Michael had to leave. Coming from a large family, with a violent father and a mother - although doing her utmost to care for them all - was overwhelmed and unable to cope. Michael says she was fiercely protective of her children and feels he missed out when he was young as he was not allowed to have a circle of friends.
The bright spot in those years was school. Michael loved it: he loved the challenge of science, art, maths, French. He loved the boundaries, the not-a-care-in-the-world time of life. He’d love to go back there.
A traumatic event was to impact his life in profound and lasting ways.
When his young girlfriend became pregnant and miscarried, Michael's grief was intense: both at the loss of his dream of fatherhood and at the failure of the relationship in the difficult months that followed.
This experience of loss at such a young age is at the root of all the mental health difficulties that Michael continues to suffer from, he feels. He has never got over it.
At the age of 17, Michael moved into shared accommodation. He admits that he had ‘a problem with weed’, and falling into bad company made it worse. In a very short time, he felt his life had spiralled out of control.
Eventually, Michael went back and forth to his original home, but the environment there continued to be intolerable and, although he never entered ‘the system’, he was, he says, ‘homeless between the ages of 19 and 21.’ Throughout this time, he would sleep on the street, couch surf - all temporary measures, all filled with anxiety and uncertainty.
Loneliness is his constant companion.
Coupled with his mental health challenges, this lack of secure accommodation has made it impossible over the years to enter into any kind of intimate relationships.
At one point, Michael had secure 'semi-independent' accommodation in Tallaght where he stayed for five months. He was able to come and go as he pleased. But these months coincided with his mother’s final illness, a deeply distressing time, and he no longer wanted to be there.
He feels fortunate that he was able to move on to his own place, and to settle into independent living. Michael has seen too much of the devastation that drugs cause in people’s lives. He doesn’t want to recall some of the scenes he has witnessed.
Michael knows his situation is still very challenging. He understands how vulnerable he is and he asks: ‘Why did Dublin forget about its people?’ He feels that people like him have been abandoned by official Ireland.
But ongoing support from organisations such as Focus Ireland and projects such as PETE – Focus Ireland’s Preparation for Education, Training and Employment, based in Smithfield – has meant that Michael has been able to attend catering courses. He has had a variety of jobs in that area, such as a kitchen porter, a chef in a creche, and these days, as part of a large staff in a Dublin city centre hotel.
Now, he has his own studio apartment – thanks to Focus Ireland – and cycles to work on a daily basis. His bike is handy, he says, because his shifts vary. He makes sure to stick to a daily routine, and it’s very important to keep taking his medication on a regular, sustained basis.
Michael knows that there is a significant support network that is underpinning his current life. He is aware of how difficult it is for everyone – Focus Ireland staff included – to remain positive in today’s housing crisis.
This is the most stable he has ever been.
He has a job, he has a home, he has a manageable daily routine. But he worries about all the homeless people he sees around him.‘Unless you are able to contribute to society, you are not valued. And sometimes, people can’t. Being abandoned like that makes people fall into the temptation of drug use.’
Cooking allows Michael to express his creativity. He wants to progress in his chosen career, to feel that he has a future. Along with HAP (Housing Assistance Payment) he can make his wage stretch from week to week.
But there is one lasting uncertainty: how long will his current contract last with his landlord? Michael is afraid that in two years’ time, he might find himself homeless again. ‘I’m in a much better place now,’ he says, ‘in every way. But having a home is fundamental.’
Instability regarding the roof over your head is hard to live with, he says, but he’s doing the best he can. And he’ll continue to ask for help.
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