Unheard Voice of the Homeless – by Rb Kavanagh

“Literally 3 months ago I had everything I ever needed, and ever wanted, I never thought this could happen to me.”
On Tuesday evening, 10 days before Christmas, I took to the streets of South Dublin with the charity Humans Too. We met a young Irish mother near St. Stephens Green. Just 3 months ago *Leanne lost her job as a qualified hairdresser. Soon after she lost her car, house and she made the most difficult decision of placing her son in voluntary care.

*Leanne found herself living on the streets after becoming redundant. She had had a stable job and until 3 months ago “had everything I ever needed, and ever wanted. I never thought this could happen to me. I walked past homeless people myself and I used to give them money and thought that is by choice.”
When *Leanne become homeless she turned to a number of refuges seeking help. To her shock, one in particular refuge expressed that they did not help women, only men. They advised her to get on social welfare. In the social welfare office she presented all the required documents excluding a physical copy of her birth certificate, which is required. She then went to the English embassy, who put a rush on getting the document to her.
*Leanne’s experience of hostels to date has been mixed, with “90% of the hostels drug ridden”. In one homeless hostel she described her unforgettable and freighting experience:
“I was there for about an hour and a half and everything was going smoothly. I was keeping myself to myself, reading my magazine. Then I looked across and there was a girl injecting right beside me. I went pale, the blood drained right from my body because I sleep walk and if that needle was dropped on the floor and I stepped on it that is like a death sentence. I ran out and told the staff what was going on and what I saw and they asked me did she use a sin bin?
Although the injection of drugs is not permitted in this hostel, it was outlined that exceptions can be made for those who use a ‘Sin Bin’. The experience of hostels as a whole is not a nice environment to be in until she found a hostel in which she felt safe, it is affordable for her and provides her with the opportunity to pay by the night or for the week.
The most difficult part of the talk was when *Leanne talked about her son, who is in voluntary care. *Leanne outlines the positive aspects of the service such as seeing her son 4 times a week for a 3-hour period. She is also given the freedom of where to bring her son. She has a wonderful social worker who is helpful and in the case of an emergency, is always informed.
*Leanne broke down in tears when describing the heartbreak of losing her son to voluntary care:
“At the same time it is not the same as waking up with your son, feeding your son, changing your son, washing your son. I know they are normal things you do with your child but at the end of the day I had him, and I have never spent a day, ever, without my son until all this happened. It has been a month and a half and it feels like 3 years. It is hard to explain to a 3 year old baby that I don’t have a home to bring him to.”
The first thing *Leanne does in the morning is go to Focus Ireland who provide her with something to eat. She will then go to an Internet cafe for a couple of hours looking for places to rent that accept rent allowance. Focus Ireland also provides her with a list of flats and apartments that do accept rent allowance. After this, *Leanne goes to another homeless shelter for coffee and a chat. On the day’s she doesn’t see her son she will go to a friends for a couple of hours before returning to the hostel for the rest of the evening.
*Leanne then goes on to describe the days she gets to see her son;
“I’ll get up, get ready, it would usually take me about 2 hours to get ready because I am going to see my son so I am all excited. I go and see him and bring him to a fun house, bring him on some of the rides and try win him a teddy bear or two when I have a few quid. My friends help me out when they know I am going to see my son. Then I would just leave him, my heart would be broken for the whole day because it is great seeing him but leaving him is a killer/heartbreaker. Then I would go back to one of my friends houses for a bit of consoling.”
*Leanne has a lot of friends and a tight network to rely on for support. They call her to make sure she is ok and often invite her around to their house for dinner, although at times she does feel like she is intruding.
On the whole, *Leanne try to stay positive during the day:
“There is not much you can do when you are homeless, you just keep battling on and looking towards the future.”
*Leanne is finding Christmas very hard, lonesome and tearful. She finds people are much more giving at this time of the year. The public are supportive not only financially but also emotionally:
“I have met an awful lot of nice people who have had concerns for me and have taken my number, rang me and made sure I am ok. The public do help because even when I am speaking they think this is not the average homeless person.”
*Leanne battles the stigma that is associated with homeless people. On an average day she could have 10 people stop and talk to her over a 3-hour period. She feels at a disadvantage but believes there are other people like herself out there:
“The public need to know, that’s why I am here speaking to you, because I want the public to know.”
Housing is the priority of *Leanne. Once she receives Social Welfare she will look to save to get a house, which will then put her in a position to get her son back and start applying for a job. *Leanne believes once you have a plan and a positive mind set you can get off the streets:
“As long as you keep positive and have a plan, I think you know what you are doing and where you are going. There are so many people out there that are so confused and do not know where they are going or what they are doing. A lot of people don’t know what they are entitled to, how to go about it, what to do with themselves during the day, then they met the wrong sort of people, they end up taking a drug.”
“But I will, I will get my life back, I am determined, there is nothing going to stop me.”
*denotes the change of name
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