By Laura Lynott @Ly211
Photo: Ioan Hiliuta
A MOTHER who has been living in a hotel for 10 months with her young daughter – said the Irish people should realise that in 2016 the Irish Government and “not the British” are the “enemy” for allowing 1,881 children to go homeless in the state.
Dubliner Erica Fleming, 30, found herself without a stable place to live with her nine-year-old daughter, Emily, last Summer. In that time rent prices in the capital has escalated to record levels.
485 people died during the Rising but Ms Fleming said the current homelessness crisis in Ireland makes a “mockery” of the struggle for independence 100 years ago.
“I don’t feel we have freedom,” she said. “The Easter Rising was a fight for was equality and freedom and we don’t have those things today because our own Government is selling us, the people, out.
“They’re keeping us down. They are not trying to make things better in Ireland. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger.
“I feel the men and women who fought during the Rising would be turning in their graves, if they were here now.
“They would be rising against the Government. That would be the new enemy. The enemy isn’t the British any more.”
The mother and daughter have become a statistic among the 912 families living in emergency homeless accommodation – figures last counted at the end of February which may have increased substantially since.
In parts of the city centre, rent has climbed as high as €1,500 a month and in parts of south Dublin, rent for a three-bed home is on average €2,000.
The inflated rents, coupled with a lack of social or private housing, means many families have become homeless and Ms Fleming and her daughter Emily, have been forced to live for almost a year in a cramped hotel room.
Estimates are that at least one family a day is becoming homeless. Ms Fleming said in the city centre the sheer number of homeless people has visibly increased even in recent months.
A young couple huddled together at night, sleeping just outside Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre in Dublin, is a regular sight, while there have been reports of pregnant women sleeping rough in the city.
Social media is full of images of the homeless with one Facebook page showing a disturbing photo of a 17-year-old young woman lying on the ground outside her Dublin home. It is claimed on the page her mother had died recently and the young woman was then evicted.
Last year there was an 80 per cent increase in repossessions. 564 homes were repossessed from January until September 2015 compared to 313 homes in the whole of 2014.
“Europe is being told we are doing phenomenally well,” Ms Fleming said. “The Government could ask the EU for funding for this housing emergency but they are too busy telling the EU how great we are doing, they haven’t even said we are have a homeless crisis.
“I want Europe to know Ireland’s recovery is a lie – it’s outrageous. Last June my nine-year old daughter and I became homeless. We have lived in four hotels since. I felt very guilty.
“You feel as a mother, you want to protect your child from the evils of the world but this took my control away as a parent.
“When I declared myself homeless Emily sat in on the conversations. The emotion at that time was raw. You have overwhelming feelings of shame and insecurity.
“A child doesn’t need to see those thing. They are supposed to see you as the most powerful person in their universe.
“I felt like my power as a parent was being taken away from me but she has been so positive about the situation. When we went Dublin City council they told us it would be six months until we would be housed, and I thought, okay, I will do half-a-year. It won’t be that long, and every week was a week closer – but it’s now it’s becoming a real problem for my daughter.”
Ms Fleming said Emily has nowhere to play after school because they are confined to one room and that her daughter suffers “separation anxiety,” not wanting to leave her mother behind in the hotel when she goes to school.
“Because Emily is affected it makes me really sad. Her confidence has gone, she is quiet, she isn’t progressing in class – these are all the things my child shouldn’t be going through and it’s all because of a housing problem.
“She was a popular, lively, bright girl but now she is withdrawn. Because the Government is refusing to help us, to solve this housing crisis, my daughter is suffering – which in turn puts a tremendous amount of pressure on me because I feel so guilty, so sad.
“The guilt is overwhelming because she is my daughter I am supposed to be able to protect her.”
It seems such was the displeasure with the elephant in the room – ‘recovery’ – that the Irish public failed to vote en-masse for establishment parties and thus neglected to place a working government in to office.
Ms Fleming, who works part-time, appeared in a RTÉ TV documentary earlier this year, ‘My Homeless Family.
She said: “The children who are homeless right now are the next generation, so if this Government is not going to look after the next generation, what morals will they have. They need to start looking after this country’s children.
“Recovery is a blatant lie because this state hasn’t even acknowledged it needs to solve this homeless crisis now.
“Things have got worse and worse and they want to paint a positive picture to attract international business that Ireland is doing fine – we don’t need help , come and set your businesses up from across the world.
“During the time of the Magdalene laundries, it was accepted by society, as a normal part of life. The last one closed in 1996.
“The Irish state let those women and children down and now we are having another crisis where young mothers and children are victims of a state turning its back on them.
“Tourists are shocked when they go in to Dublin city centre, by how many rough sleepers there are. But of course, it would be morally wrong for visitors to see mothers and children sleeping out on the street – so this state is throwing us in to hotels, hiding us away.”
Since becoming long-term homeless Ms Fleming has become a campaigner. Earlier this month the mother spoke in the Dail on homelessness, she has appeared on the Late Late Show and held a protest during the Easter Rising commemoration.
She was invited to speak at the Sinn Fein party conference this week. But she does not align to any political party. She admits she is like so many in Ireland, disillusioned with party politics.
“I became a campaigner not by choice,” she said. “At first when RTE asked me to do the documentary, I kept saying no. I was afraid what people would think of me. I am a mother, I have a job. I was and am a private person, but then the longer it went on and the more people I saw becoming homeless, it became bigger than me.
“If I was housed tomorrow, I wouldn’t stop campaigning.”
Ms Fleming, along with several left wing politicians in Ireland – has questioned why the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) a bad bank created by the Irish Government in 2008, to acquire property development loans.
NAMA owns a large portfolio of properties, many of which are not in use across Ireland, while the homeless crisis worsens.
“In Coolock, Dublin alone there are properties boarded up and as we drive past on the way to school, Emily says ‘Why aren’t they being opened up, why aren’t you asking them, mum?’
“These are NAMA apartments,” Ms Fleming said. “They are empty, ready to be used. They have been empty at least since the gay marriage Equality Referendum because I was putting posters up for that and saw they were empty then.
“This is a housing emergency. It really doesn’t make sense.”
Ms Fleming sat in the Dail last year when the main parties, including the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, voted against a motion to call a housing emergency in the country, brought by a socialist politician, Ruth Coppinger.
“I looked down on the politicians as a homeless mother and watched as they pushed their little buttons against the motion,” Ms Fleming said.
“I felt they had absolutely no respect for what we are going through. I actually think they all live in a little bubble and because their bubble hasn’t burst, the homeless crisis hasn’t impacted on them, there is no pressure on them to make a change. It’s like we are invisible.”
It has been estimate that it costs around €30,000 per year per family to cover hotel/B&B accommodation. And recently a new and unsettling trend has emerged. More working people are now becoming homeless.
Rents are beyond affordability for many, and because there is such a shortage of supply of rented property, homelessness is spreading to the country as well, to counties such as Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford.
The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has witnessed a increase in complaints regarding unfair rent hikes – spiralling by almost 70 per cent in some cases.
There has also been a rise in illegal eviction cases the dealt with by the agency.
A study by the National Suicide Research Foundation last year showed there was a significant rise in the rate of suicide and self-harm between 2008 and 2012,.
Rising unemployment, combined with depression and substance abuse, appear to have been key risk factors among deaths during the downturn.
The foundation’s research highlighted the rate of suicide among men at the end of 2012 was 57 per cent higher than would have been the case if the recession had not occurred. The equivalent rate for women was 7 per cent higher.
Ms Fleming recently launched a campaign appealing for the public to help renovate boarded up houses in Dublin. There are estimated to be a thousand boarded up homes in the Dublin region.
But even a woman who seems to tirelessly fight the powers that be in the state, has her “down days.”
“I wasn’t feeling in the mood to talk today,” she said. “Some days it just all gets a bit too much.
“I have to sit in the dark from 8pm every night, because that’s when Emily goes to bed and I can’t have the TV on for fear of waking her. I visit people and I feel like I am taking advantage by being there because I am that homeless woman.
“Emily can’t have friends over because we live in a hotel and where is the time for my own social life. It’s very hard.”