Room 447 can never be home to a child

Hotel rooms are designed with a set purpose in mind. Room 447 was built with a purpose. It was hewed from the builders' tools for a reason. It had to be spacious but not too big. Space efficient, it heard the surveyors say as they measured it out. It had to be comfy. Room 447 wants to do its job well, to be remembered as the best room; it wants to offer the intimacy of home.

To this end, it engages guests in a game of pretence. When they enter Room 447, both will pretend that all they need is here, everything is neatly tucked away in a drawer or cupboard. The ironing board lives in that little slot, the kettle down there, the hairdryer over there. To this end, Room 447 pretends it is a miniature version of your house, with its bathroom, couch, and bed, all within eight feet of each other. Room 447 wants to see a smile on the face of those who enter it, laden down with bags.

But while Room 447 tries to mimic your home, it is an impression that it fails to deliver on the big stage.

Hotel rooms are not homes. They can never be homes.

But last month, we told 3,000 children in this country that rooms just like Room 447 are their homes. That these are the four walls they must live within. We tell them that the little round table in the room which is never big enough to put anything of substance on, will double as their kitchen table; but that in most cases, they will eat their food while sitting on the floor. Or sprawled on the bed.

To most of us, seeing Room 447 creates a sense of excitement - a hotel room signifies a break away. But to these 3,000 children, Room 447 may be a dry warm roof over their head, but it is a dead space where their freedom and dignity is constrained. And a place where their future health and wellbeing is being seriously compromised.

A generation lost to the confines of Room 447.

I write this in the context of the report issued last evening into the reality of those who are living in homeless emergency accommodation in hotels and guesthouses around the country. The Food Access and Nutritional Health of Families in Emergency Accommodation report, by Dr Michelle Share of Trinity College Dublin and Marita Hennessy of NUI Galway, found unhealthy eating habits were becoming “normalised” and parents reported their children were gaining weight and becoming constipated.

It tells of children eating dinners on the floor and on the beds; dinners of crisps and takeaways and chips. Hotel rooms are not kitchens so parents resort to takeaways, or to boiling food in kettles. Children are growing up with a poor relationship to food and to the socialisation that it offers. Food is there to be wolfed down, eaten while sitting or lying in an unsuitable position

And lest you have an assumption that the people forced into this situation are just ignorant of the benefits of nutrition, of proper diet, and proper gait while eating, do not be fooled. Falling into the food poverty trap is just another level of humiliation for those for whom Room 447 pretends to be home. Being forced to feed their children like this, is the ultimate in frustration for the conscientious parent affected by the housing crisis.

We hope that if anything is to be achieved in overcoming the housing crisis, it will be that children will be freed from the trap of not having their own space to be themselves, to be out of sight of parents, to play with their friends, to play with pretend friends.

They need space to be given the dignity to be children.

It’s the smallest gift we can give them.

But it might turn out to be the biggest.

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