Each month we shine a spotlight on a different family-centred Irish charity as part of our Charity of the Year series. This month, we’re showcasing the great work of Focus Ireland.
Focus Ireland is Ireland’s leading non-profit organisation, working to prevent people becoming, remaining or returning to homelessness.
Below you’ll find a letter written by mother of three Laura. It shares her story of homelessness and how Focus Ireland have become an invaluable support to her and her family in a time of great adversity.
A Letter to Focus Ireland
I’ll start with the night my son was born. When I held Seán for the first time and looked into his beautiful eyes, I cried. All I could say was “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean your life to start this way”.
When Seán was born, we were homeless. We had lost our home three months before, when our landlord told us he was selling. That’s all it took.
Myself and my partner Alan and our two older kids were living in one room in an emergency accommodation hotel. When Seán was born, I was so worried about what was going to happen to him. How were we going to care for him in that room? How was he going to learn or grow? So, I just held him, and I promised him, no matter what it took, he would not grow up homeless.
That was over a year ago. We’ve been homeless ever since.
Family life without a home
The last 18 months have been a living nightmare for all of us – but it’s the kids who have suffered most. When I think of all that they have been through and what they have seen, I know for a fact there is no way we could have survived as long as we have without people like those of you at Focus Ireland. Thanks to you I know that my children can make it through this.
I know that we will soon be back in a home of our own. And until we are, I know that my children will have all the help, support and love that they need. We’ve been living here for nearly two years now. But I’ve lost all sense of time.
Every week in homelessness is like a lifetime. It’s like we’re living in a box. There are five of us in this one small room. Everything we have is piled up in boxes against the wall. Jack is eight now and Sandra is six. They sleep on the bunk beds. Seán sleeps in our bed. There is no room for a cot. We have no cooking facilities. You’re not even allowed a microwave. I have to heat Seán’s bottles in the kettle. All the kids’ toys are in the bathroom. There are no chairs or table. The kids have to sit on the bed when they do their homework. That’s where I am now writing this letter.
The days are very long. We are miles away from the kids’ school, so we have to get up very early and get two buses. The kids are always exhausted. Sometimes we just walk around or sit in the library. Anything to avoid coming back here. And then Covid came and that made things worse. We were trapped in this room 24 hours a day. I thought I’d lose my mind.
The longterm effects of homelessness on children
But it’s the nights that are the worst. That’s when it starts. This sick feeling in my stomach. Every night I watch the kids as they sleep and I start to panic. I start thinking ‘what damage is this doing to them? What damage has it done already?’ Sandra has got very quiet. She used to be so bubbly. And then, back in June, she just stopped eating. I thought she was sick of all take away food, but it was more than that.
Then Jack started to get in trouble in school. When they went back after the lockdown the teachers told me he was getting into fights. He is only eight but he’s so angry all the time.
And then there’s Seán. My beautiful little boy. He is one now. But he’s still not crawling properly. There is no space. We don’t even have space for a walker or a highchair. I end up holding him all the time
There are nights I feel so ashamed. All I want is for my children to have a home. A bed to sleep in. A garden to play in. Just the simple things. I would give everything for that. We do all we can to protect them. But we can’t do it on our own. Because without people like you and Focus Ireland, we would be lost.
The first day I met Lisa, our Focus Ireland Key Worker, she said to me she was here to help and she would never stop until we had a home of our own again. Lisa and Focus Ireland have been our saviours. They are always there to help and advise us. She never loses faith.
We don’t have family to turn to and Alan works shifts so when Seán was born I was on my own a lot. I couldn’t cope. But Lisa organised everything. She even had a Moses basket and extra maternity clothes waiting for me when I came out of the hospital. Sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference.
Children aren’t allowed to have friends in their room here, so they can’t have sleepovers. So, last Christmas, Lisa organised a special sleepover downstairs. All the kids brought down duvets and sleeping bags and crowded into the TV room to watch The Late Late Toy Show. I remember Sandra saying she heard the man on the TV saying that all the toys were going to go to the homeless kids. She was wondering was he talking about her. That broke my heart. Every day I worry about my children and the effect this is having on them. That sick feeling in my stomach never goes away.
But thanks to everyone who donates to Focus Ireland, Lisa and the team have been able to help my kids when they needed it most. As soon as there were signs that Jack and Sandra were really struggling, Lisa organised a Child Support worker to help them. That has made such a difference. Kelly (that’s Sandra’s support worker) plays with her, and they go on trips and just talk together. But it’s like Kelly is able to help Sandra find a way of dealing with what she’s going through.
I would never be able to do that for her. She’s also been working with Jack and he’s doing much better in school now. He’s still tired all the time and he finds it hard to sleep. But the fighting has stopped. And he’s not quite as angry anymore. Focus Ireland have done so much for us over the past year and a half. And I know that they will be here for us, every day, for as long as we need.
Donate to Focus Ireland this Christmas
Our children’s lives won’t start again until they have a home of their own. The only thing that will protect my children – and all the children here – is a home. That’s the only thing that matters. But that’s what Focus Ireland does. They help people find homes. And they help people stay in the homes. I see it here every week. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen four different families leave here and move into homes. And this could not happen without you.
From the very first day I met Lisa, she has been helping us with viewings and housing applications and dealing with the council. Last week she organised a viewing of another house for us. And today she called to say she had another for us to go to next week. I cannot tell you what it means to have someone like that on our side. This will be our second Christmas in homelessness, and I hope it will be our last.
I know for a fact that with the help of Focus Ireland, my children will never have to spend another Christmas in homelessness. Please, please make a special donation to Focus Ireland this Christmas. You really have no idea how much of a difference you are making.
With all my love,
More information about Focus Ireland
Find out more information about Focus Ireland, its mission, values, how to donate and services on their website. You can also keep up to date on Focus Ireland events by following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.