By Robert Geoghegan
This article consists of both written and spoken word. *Jane’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
You could be forgiven if you thought that Dublin city today almost embodies the opening paragraph from Charles Dickens’ book A Tale of Two Cities. Depending on who you talk to, we are nearing the best of times, and again you could ask someone else and they might tell you it is the worst of times.
Ireland has been in the midst of a housing and rental crisis over the last number of years and consequently, there has been an increase, year-on-year, of people finding themselves homeless. The preconceived notion that all homeless people are either drug addicts or alcoholics, is a notion that should have been challenged a long time ago. We now know, or at least we should know, that homelessness could happen to anyone. The current figures say that a total of 10,275 individuals are in emergency accommodation with nearly 1,000 of them being children. Steadily, more people are finding themselves couch surfing, moving back into their parental home or on the brink of poverty just to pay the rent.
This is the story of a young woman called Jane* who found herself through a series of unfortunate circumstances that led to her becoming homeless. For Jane, like most people, her adult life began after she opened her Leaving Cert results. Unfortunately, those results were not what Jane was hoping for. Looking for results to anchor her in the age of wisdom, instead they anchored her in an age of young foolishness, tripping up Jane’s dreams of going to college.
Moving back into your parents’ home is a thought some might consider. For many there is a sense of shame moving back, for Jane moving back was the only option. For a while, everything was back on track and being at home offered stability for Jane and her son if only momentarily.
The spring of hope, for Jane, turned into the winter of despair. Leaving her mother’s house with nothing but a bag of essentials, having left her son with his father, Jane set out to find somewhere to stay for the night. What do you do? Where do you go? People say school never prepares you for real life, how to pay taxes or balance a budget. School certainly doesn’t tell you what to do when you find yourself in the precarious situation that is homelessness. Jane found herself ringing her local county council who in turn gave her a free phone number to ring.
When you ring the number, you are greeted with an automated service. You must wait on the phone as numbers count down to zero. For this, you need a fully charged phone or a phone at all for that matter. You then wait until it counts all the way down to 1 and if you are lucky, you’ll have a bed for the night. Most people above the number 50 usually don’t receive one. Upon finding herself lucky enough to get a bed for the night, the reality of Jane’s situation set in.
Incredulously for Jane, the people staying at the shelter had jobs. They were regular people in difficult circumstances. People you wouldn’t take a second glance at, people you walk beside on the way to work or even work with.
All throughout her homeless ordeal, Jane was trying to complete a degree course to become a secondary school teacher. Jane found her grades slipping and felt a sense of shame while on her teaching placement; teaching the youth of tomorrow how to best lead their lives, Jane couldn’t help feeling like a fraud and ashamed at finding herself homeless. The emotional strain became too difficult as she juggled being homeless, a single mom away from her child, and a student; so, she decided to defer.
Things began looking up for Jane when her Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) was accepted by a landlord. HAP is a form of social housing support for people who have long-term housing needs. With this new form of security things began to turn around for Jane.
She considers herself one of the lucky ones as she managed to transition from being homeless to a private rental accommodation and in the end, managed to finish her degree.
But the threat of homelessness remains a very real threat for Jane. With the continued rental costs spiralling out of control, who knows how long the best of times will last.