Hidden Homeless, Hidden Stories
A true story about being hidden homeless
I live in Ireland, a country whose politicians proudly proclaim has one of the fastest growing economies and citizens now have more money in their pockets yet it is a country where the word 'housing' is invariably followed by the word 'crisis'. You see, the growth and improvement for businesses and our government does not measure how all the people on this island are managing and certainly not the many on the streets or on the brink, those of us living in and dying from poverty. There are over ten thousand people accessing emergency homeless services yet our housing minister does not count those sleeping rough on the streets who learned the hard way that emergency accommodation is worse than curling up in any doorway they can sleep safely in and those of us without a home of our own. I'm homeless but I don't turn up on the minister's reports because I am one of the thousands that are hidden homeless, people who cannot afford and our own place and who have been overlooked and failed by a system that casts us aside in the non priority trash can.
We are very lucky, and grateful indeed that we're not sleeping on a park bench but we're sleeping on a mate's couch with no security or the stability that comes from having your own key to a home. We are the in-between that cannot afford to live anywhere in a country where the rents are sky rocketing and properties are few and far between yet the waiting lists for council properties is ten-fourteen years, and many don't qualify for rent supplements, doomed to be the working poor. The rental market favours the chosen few who our government boasts about, the ones with "more money in their pockets", yet in a lot of cases they are shelling out more than they can afford in rent no matter how many zeros are on their pay slip. Families living in one bed apartments and the rise of cramped studios going for over a grand, money that once would have gotten you somewhere comfortable to live, are telling of the horrors of a government that are blindly and seemingly blissfully ignoring.
People are dying on the streets, they're dying from suicide at losing or the threat of losing their homes, and they're dying inside if not in the physical sense from the bleakness of the scramble to just have somewhere to live, something which shouldn't be. My husband and I found ourselves homeless due to circumstances out of our control. For the last four years of a ten year tenancy, we fought tooth and nail, begging and borrowing and doing everything we could to keep the place we called home. One would be forgiven for thinking this was a nice place, somewhere worth fighting for, but it was a place that if you saw it, you would understand the term 'slum lord'. The walls crumbled and there were holes in the floor, black mould on the ceilings and the stench of damp seeped in to every room. Our landlords knowing the appalling conditions we lived in were happy to take money and put off the very major repairs that sat untouched for years. I grew to be ashamed to have friends and family over and have them see how I was living. We paid out 90% of our income just to have somewhere to live as we watched rents soar, knowing this was the only option we had.
After the two years of the non stop fight and the terror week to week of not knowing if we had a roof over our heads, I buckled under the pressure and tried to kill myself taking an overdose of 170 pills. Granted, there was a mix of reasons, yet living in poverty and the constant threat of homelessness looming over us were two of the most pressing reasons. Eventually the hammer dropped and in 2017 the end finally came, plunging us into homelessness. We were some of the luckier ones, we had a few places we could stay and rotate and all involved thought it was only going to be a temporary situation, but soon the gravity of the situation sank in. Being very low income we had no chance of affording anywhere and while we qualify for rent supplement, next to no properties come up within our limit. Landlords, despite it being illegal to discriminate on the basis of rent supplement, are quietly refusing tenants like us in the background. There is a negative connotation of people on rent supplement. We are deemed to be that lower class of people, not the ones they want. Door after door closed in our face and the despair came yet again.
We searched for housing organisations that might be able to help and every single one came back with a sincere apology, saying the system is broken and there are no supports for hidden homeless. None. At one point when it looked like we were out of options, we wound up at the homeless region executive looking for help. They took a file on us but said with my mental and physical health problems emergency accommodation was highly unsuitable and because we had been couch surfing there was nothing they could do. Emergency accommodation is an environment filled with the constant threat of violence, all valuables and in my case my medication are at risk of being stolen, the desperation is palpable. The people there causing the problems are not inherently bad, just trying to survive and block out what is a horrible existence. I wrote to our housing minister urging him to go down there, to speak to the forgotten people using the services, to see the kids' toys there to distract children while their parents sort out the grisly business of whether or not they can have a bed for the night or are they going to have to put their children through sleeping on the streets. For my husband and I, though I count ourselves lucky to have people to put us up, it is a constant blur of packing a bag and travelling to wherever we can stay, hopping on trains and buses, often having to stay apart at a time when we need each other the most. More and more we feel like a burden on the people we stay with, it's intruding on someone's space knowing you can't just go home. I miss being alone with him and us being us. I miss resting. I often cry before taking off because I just don't have the energy to move again, lugging that heavy suitcase has become the physical manifestation of all the weight and hurts of being displaced. All we want is a home yet there is a seemingly impossible divide to cross to get one. Our story is not unique and there are many more out there in far worse situations than our own. Those experiencing homelessness to the ones with the power to actively do something about it are merely statistics on reports. I'd like to think that if they heard the stories of every statistic, their hearts would break—or at least they should. Property values outweigh people in my Ireland, the one that many more than our government care to admit are living in. It is amazing, yes, that after a very bleak recession our economy is improving and so utterly, utterly cruel that's what they'll say when asked how Ireland is doing.