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.
One thing that's shines about Celena, is her smile - it lights up the room. She is a bright, warm and engaging young woman in her early twenties and she is eager to tell her story. She wants others to see how much she loves her life now and how optimistic she is for the future.
Having two kids, a four year old boy and two year old girl, both now in school and playschool, Celena hope this will allow her to look for part-time work to help with the family finances. It's easy to see what a dedicated mother she is, how she relishes her independence and her ability to manage her own life and that of her family
Focus Ireland has provided ongoing support to Celena and her family - something she is endlessly grateful for. It's stories like this that prove how important Focus is to families like Celena's, how they helped her find a safe home for her and her children and for the respect shown throughout the entire process.
Things weren’t always like this, though.
Celena’s life as a small child was filled with loss and neglect. Her mother and father were both addicts and Celena was taken into care when she was three, along with her older brother, Kevin. They were both placed with the same foster mother soon afterwards, where they stayed for ten years.
When remembering the physical abuse they both suffered at this time from her mother, you can see the pain on Celena's face. She remembers some days were ‘filled with fear’ and the strange thing was, she recalls, that she and her brother came to see this abuse as normal - they knew nothing else.
One morning, at 5.30, Celena woke to find that Kevin had gone. Devastated at finding herself alone and without her protector, Celena ran away too. They had lived for years without telling their social worker about the abuse that they lived with on a daily basis.
‘We couldn’t,’ Celena says. ‘Kevin knew that if we reported our foster mother, the social worker would be obliged to let her know of our complaint. He knew that things would just get worse for us afterwards.’
They were both eventually found by the Guards and once again placed into foster care - this time in a different part of the city. The new foster mother was, Celena recalls, ‘unwelcoming’. She didn’t seem to want the children in the house, messing up the kitchen with crumbs, and so, at twelve years of age, Celena spent her days wandering the streets, often hungry. Until she couldn’t stand it any longer, and ran away again.
At that stage, Celena recalls, she felt that she could trust nobody.
She remembered what her brother Kevin had told her: ‘Run away and then you can talk: you can tell the social worker how bad things are. If you stay, you can’t.’
Now in her third placement, she felt that everyone had abandoned her, that there was no-one who cared what happened to her.
‘The new foster family was great at the start,’ she says, ‘but I was becoming a teenager. I started to rebel. I was afraid that the same kind of life was going to be mine all over again. I lost myself. I started smoking. I lost control of everything and I became suicidal.’
After leaving school at the age of fifteen and becoming pregnant at sixteen, Celena set out to find her father. She knew he was living somewhere in Wicklow, but soon discovered he and his partner weren't capable of looking after her.
‘I felt completely alone,’ she says, ‘but I was not going to live in a house full of violence when I was expecting a baby. I didn’t want that sort of life for me or my child.’
And then there came a turning-point.
Focus Ireland stepped in and found her a place to stay in a mother and baby unit. ‘I went to Clannad, in Mulhuddart,’ she says, ‘along with Brendan. They saved me.’ She describes the two years she spent there as the best years of her young life: for the first time in her life, she had a family and a community of her own.
During her time here, Celena learned how to cook, clean and work as part of a team. The staff here helped her to deal with authority and stand up for herself. Things like saving money - something she was 'clueless' at beforehand - and budgeting were now skills she was thriving in.
She also discovered the benefit of art therapy. While she painted and made pictures, she says, ‘I learned to let go. It was the best feeling ever. I could process all that had happened to me and see it drift away.’ And her baby son thrived, too. Playdoh was his thing and Celena still loves getting creative with her two children.
Celena is full of plans for the future.
Once she left Clannad, Focus Ireland found her a house and the stability of new accommodation has made her even stronger. Celena is fiercely protective of her two children and says, ‘I want them to have a good childhood, a good life. Mine was stolen from me. I’m not having that happen to them.’
Celena is now in a new and happy relationship with her daughter, Deirdre's father, Jason. Both are saving hard with a dream to get out of Dublin and buy a small house in the country, where their children can grow up away from the city’s influences, where they can breathe and be surrounded by animals. ‘Keep them busy; keep them active; keep them out in the fresh air.'
Jason’s parents are wonderful to her and the children, Celena says. They are another link in the all-important chain of support.
‘Once you come to them, they never let you fall through the cracks. They never judge.’
Neither her present life, nor her future, she says, would have been possible without the knowledge that Focus Ireland always has her back. ‘I need that support,’ Celena says, ‘I need help and I’m not afraid to ask for it. Focus helped me find a home, and they helped me get set up there.’ She pauses for a moment. ‘Everyone respects Focus,’ she says.
The respect and support given by Focus Ireland throughout Celena's life was and still is vital. She is so impressed by her careworker, that she is now inspired to go back into full time education. ‘If I do,’ she says with a smile, ‘I can keep my careworker until I’m 23!’
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.