Oh, to have a little house

Imagine if you can, having to go outside your front door at home. Imagine locking that door after you. How do you think you would feel if you were told you were never allowed to go back in again? It is getting colder and darker. Night is closing in. You have nowhere to go. How do you think you would feel? That is the feeling of being evicted, of being homeless.

As with any issue in life you cannot imagine it will ever happen to you - until it does.

And so it was, that I too faced homelessness with my two children. Simply said, we had become a burden to our landlord, paying only half of the current going rate. Now that same house was old and while conditions in it were very poor - we remained there; it was at least secure.

Imagine my shock when after 11 years of good tenancy, we received our notice.

Where were we to go? We couldn’t pay the exorbitant rents being requested. HAP schemes didn’t cover these and we were not in a position to make up the shortfall as many others are forced to do. Anyway, landlords are backing away from the stringent standards of houses being accepted onto such schemes. They can simply get more rent for doing less with the current shortage of supply.

Imagine if you can, you are a single parent of two children, one with mental health issues and the other with general health issues - many arising from the poor conditions in that rental property and now you are being evicted. What do you do?

Family? Friends? No-one can help you. You don’t ask - and you don’t admit to anyone the crisis you are facing. It is so lonesome.

You read on social media comments such as “Why did she have children when she couldn’t afford them?”; “They are only having babies so they get the free house”; “Living on the backs of taxpayers - go out and get a job”

So, not only are you in a desperate situation with sick children and facing homelessness but you are also being branded as a social pariah.

I turned to local government. I went to the City Council Housing department, where we were already on the waiting list for 10 years. There they shrugged their shoulders and said nothing was being built, there were no houses available. Try finding a place that would accept the HAP scheme? “Next please!”.

I turned to Threshold for help. At this point I have to ask why it is, that finally at a not-for-profit organisation that I finally did get help and proper advice?

Our case was taken on board, the eviction notice was determined to be invalid and our landlord was requested to uphold the legal notice period for people who had been (good ) tenants for over 10 years.

Soon after, the solicitors’ letters started arriving. Threshold supported us all the way, guiding us through the legal issues and more. We were met with such understanding, I used to call my contact person my therapist. They respected our dignity and clearly showed us we were just one family of very, very many in the same horrific situation.

I turned to councillor Terry O Flaherty, described our situation and asked for help. She listened with empathy and over the following months, made many representations on our behalf. She fought for us as if we were related somehow. I will always be indebted to her, although she never wanted any thanks for what she did.

And so it came to be, after a gruesome 11 months of not knowing, worrying and being scared, we were finally offered a house.

At this stage, a PortaKabin would have been a huge relief. Fuelled by the dread of having to sleep in a car with my sick children or to have to stay in some hotel / B&B — homeless, a statement that my family and I were a drag on society, a failure, undesirables..

The hurt inside you that this is what your life has come to and the unspoken feeling you had failed in providing for your children - all because of money, greed, health and government strategies that just haven’t worked properly.

Through the representations made by Terry on our behalf, we were offered a home. Not a PortaKabin, but one that surpassed all hopes and dreams. We attended the first viewing and interview for the house and I think it took me several days to come back down from the height it put me at.

Together with the key of the house came a sense of self-worth, of dignity, of support, of security, of a right to live a normal life and the hope, once again, of a bright future.

When we now walk around our new home, we pinch ourselves. Can this be real? Before we enter the new house, we ring the doorbell - every time. Why? Because we can! We haven’t had a working doorbell for 11 years. We open all the windows - because we have learned to live with the cold and the drafts and this new house is so warm.

We no longer live in a home that is a fire and health hazard. We look forward to a washing machine that has a door that isn’t half falling off, to floors that don’t creak if someone breathes, to a beautiful, clean floor - without holes, to space, to bright, well-lit rooms. We polish and we clean - because in this house it makes a difference. Everything is new, shiny and happy - not old, dreary and damp.

I could be busy all the day clearing and sweeping hearth and floor, and fixing on their shelf again my white and blue and speckled store.”

We can dream of birthday parties and inviting people over. We have a home and we will never have a bullying landlord again.

We have been catapulted back into the lane where we can live a “normal” life again.

Being evicted and having no-where to go is a gutting thing to happen to anyone. It affects a person in all manner of ways - amongst other things it deteriorates your human dignity, destroys your sense of self-worth.

I wrote this article to highlight what really stands behind the word “Homelessness” for so many people. Far too often we gloss over these issues because they belong to someone else - but the point is, they could easily belong to each and every one of us. Life happens.

In the meantime, for us as a family, the future seems a very bright place. We are finally home... Not homeless.

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