It was ten years ago when Laura spent a year and a half in a homeless shelter with her mam. She lived in Hedigans in town, it has three stories and had families, of up to six people, squished into tiny little rooms that must have only been made for one or two people. The cramped quarters were a far cry from luxury but it put a roof over her head so she did not complain.
There was a kitchen that all the residents could use but if any food was left there unattended then it was taken so Laura remembers having to be very careful, even as a child. There was a room for the people who ran the shelter, they had a big couch there. It was a luxury to the homeless children who were deprived of natural comforts.
The worst part, Laura recalled, was the ever-present alcoholism and drug addiction. There would be bottles and cans about and an over-powering stench of alcohol. It was not a place for children, especially not at Christmas time when drinking increases and so does financial strain.
There were 1014 families in emergency accommodation in September of this year, with 2,065 dependent children also living in emergency accommodation, according to Dublin Region Homeless Executive and these figures are not expected to decline before the festive season.
This is the highest number of families who are without a permanent home in Dublin to have ever been reported. There were also 4,006 adults on their own in emergency accommodation in the third quarter of 2016.
Because of this large increase, the 2016 budget allocated an extra 40 percent in homeless funding for 2017, meaning there will be €98 million in the budget for homelessness next year.
This funding does not come into effect until after the New Year though, meaning all of these families are going to be without a home for the Christmas period.
There are shoebox appeals and charitable organisations or volunteers are offering free Christmas dinners in order to provide some sort of normality for these families but they are still going to be without a permanent residence this festive season and that is something that cannot be fixed with food or presents.
Spending time with family and friends, eating and enjoying yourself at Christmas can be some of the best childhood memories that people grow up with. If we even take presents out of the equation, the joy of seeing Christmas lights or singing carollers can be an integral part of many people’s childhoods.
In a study, carried out in 2012 by the Ombudsman for children and young people, fifteen children were interviewed about their experiences in emergency accommodation. Of the fifteen children interviewed, five had spent between one and three months in the services while seven had used the services for more than six months. Six children had been in one placement and another six had been in up to three placements.
That is a large chunk of time to be without a permanent residence, to be worried about what would happen if there were a shortage of beds and they cannot find somewhere to sleep. That is a lot of pressure to put on anybody, especially a child whose innocence should be preserved and who should be shielded from the hardships of life.
But what can we do to make sure that these children also receive the Christmas they deserve?
Everybody can chip in by volunteering for homeless charities such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Peter McVerry Trust or the Simon community. Food, toys, blankets all make a difference to someone who has very little.
Luas are filling one of their trams with shoeboxes on the 8th of December in order to provide as many homeless children as possible with some sense of normality.
Finally, homelessness is not always caused by the misuse of drugs and alcohol, there are many other societal factors that can lead to a person being homeless such as being unemployed or low income. Laura’s mum, for example, had just come out of a bad relationship and was suffering with ill mental health. We should not assume that the sole reason for being homelessness is addiction.
Everybody can help out friends or relatives by allowing them to stay at their houses over during the Christmas period. Christmas is a time for family and friends and we should strip away our prejudices and allow some more love into our homes.
For months, Laura’s mam protected her and led her to believe that they were living in a B&B, rather than a homeless shelter. It was only upon receiving a shoebox, similar to the very one she crafted for homeless children, did she realise that she too was homeless. She was without a real home for two Christmas seasons. She did not receive the Christmas she deserved.
Image Credit: Laura Duffy