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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Ciaran Bradley & Mostafa Darwish

'How the f**k are we supposed to sleep happily?': Homeless Irish mother and son share story of violence, neglect and filthy conditions

The story of a mother and son in Dublin paints a bleak picture of Ireland's often dirty and dangerous homeless accommodation, a special investigation by the Irish Mirror can reveal.

In part two of our special series into Ireland's housing crisis, we hear from the pair who have been funnelled into accommodation that is often deeply unsanitary and fraught with violence.

Their stories reflect a system with little meaningful clarity on when they can expect permanent housing that will allow them to rebuild their lives and allow them to work again.

Read more: Families' 'heartbreaking' struggles to find homes as Ireland's housing crisis becomes emergency

According to the most recent figures, there are 10,300 people registered as homeless in Ireland.

Focus Ireland told the Irish Mirror that they expect the number to reach 11,000 in the next few months.

These numbers do not include people sleeping rough on Ireland's streets as the relevant official homeless statistics apparently solely consider those using emergency accommodation in their figures.

We met Eddie Collins, 26, and Anne Collins, 50 - a mother and son who have been living in Dublin's streets.

They are currently living in a doorway in the south inner-city that they feel is safer than the series of emergency hostels they have frequented over the years.

Anne is originally from Crumlin, but moved to Westport to raise her children before her the 2006 suicide of her husband rendered the family homeless.

"My husband had just been released from a two-year prison sentence, and was suffering with depression. He committed suicide in the attic on Easter Sunday morning.

"I tried to stay [in the council home] but my sons and daughter were having to go together to the toilet in the middle of the night because they were terrified.

"Their bedrooms were right in the middle of where their father took his life. After a couple of months, I decided that I couldn't put my children through this, they were traumatised by it.

"I went to the council and handed back the key saying that I couldn't live there, and moved back to Dublin into my mum's two-bed house.

"I went to the council and explained the situation and the man there said 'We can consider you in about ten years' time but for now, you left yourself homeless.' I asked him whether he would be able to stay in his house if his wife took her own life, if his children were thinking about the incident every day.

"The man couldn't answer me, he just put his head down. He said 'I'm so sorry for what happened but in ten years' time we can consider you."

This, in turn, led to a spiral of depression and addiction that resulted in Anne's children being taken into care as she found herself having to contend with homelessness.

"I was staying everywhere and anywhere. Some friends would take me in, then I would end up sleeping out on the street.

"I would get a tent and then a couple of friends who were drinkers would say 'stay beside us, we'll keep you safe because you're a woman'.

"These were friends that I grew up with so I knew I could trust them with my life. They would park their tent [beside me] and we got on great, like a little family.

"The only thing that was missing was my kids - that used to kill me every day of my life."

The pair are not able to share a room due to strict administrative rules, meaning they often find themselves placed with people who pose real and potential danger to health and wellbeing.

"My son was put into a room with a 53-year-old man and being asked to do all of these [coercive sexual] things, then to be blinded with scalding sugar and water - how sick can that be?

"You're told 'When you go into this room, you'll be nice and safe, you can sleep happy...'

"You don't know who you are sleeping beside so how the f**k can you sleep happy?"

Their story is one of administrative neglect, overworked staff in key agencies, as well as violent, unsafe and unsanitary conditions in accommodation funded by the public purse.

Eddie has been homeless as an adult since his 18th birthday, eight years ago, while Anne has been without a home for 16 years. They have been alternating between sleeping on the streets, bedding down in emergency accommodation and with friends who will take them in.

Both are now sleeping rough again because they feel it is safer than the dangerous conditions they found in Dublin's hostels. Anne's story of a recent hostel stay in Dublin is indicative of conditions she has found in other hostels in the city.

Placed into accommodation into Dublin city centre, she says she shared a room with a woman who was a heroin addict using needles beside her. Additionally, she claimed the plumbing in their bathroom was backed up to such an extent that any flush of the toilet resulted in faecal matter coming up through the plughole of the shower.

Anne was told that it would take several days to sort the plumbing in a room that Anne said was ripe with the smell of human waste. She visited a nurse soon after who assessed that she had contracted a chest infection.

"The room I was put in a few weeks ago [near O'Connell Street], I liked the girl and knew her well. It wasn't somewhere I could sleep because her side of the room was unreal [with used needles].

"The bathroom, I was breathing down fumes of whatever was coming out of the toiler and whatever. My chest was bad, I couldn't breathe properly for a week. Since I left that room, my chest has been perfect."

Having raised the issue with hostel staff, Anne found their response inadequate.

"I raised [the bathroom issue] with the woman in the hostel, I said 'that is disgraceful' and that I could not wash myself, brush my teeth or use the bathroom. She said to me 'just use your side of the room and don't go over to her side', that's what I was told.

"I'm not looking for a mansion of a room, just something clean and tidy, with someone that I can trust. It was unliveable and that is the truth."

As a recovering addict, Anne felt at risk of relapse sharing with someone who was using heroin on a daily basis.

"I feel more at ease because you are in a room with a person where you're not supposed to be able to visit other people.

"We had people coming into our room smoking whatever they do, and that's their own business, but they should not mix people who are drug addicts with people who is never on drugs.

"I find that very, very wrong because they might find themselves going down that path."

Anne is on a methadone programme and was warned by her doctor that her living situation in the hostel was endangering her progress.

Not only in danger of relapse, Eddie and Anne's experience in the hostel spilled into a number of violent incidents.

One of these involved them being attacked just outside the hostel where they were staying by two other service users.

The Department of Housing told the Irish Mirror of their plans with regard to Ireland's housing crisis in a statement:

"[Any] tenant can bring a dispute to the Residential Tenancies Board for resolution, regardless of whether the tenancy is registered or not. The RTB takes illegal eviction very seriously as it can potentially leave a tenant homeless and is always very active in its intervention when such requests for supports are received and their intervention is successful in the vast majority of cases. While request for tenant support can be in relation to access to property and return of belongings, the focus of the RTB’s intervention is the maintenance of the tenancy.

"Reforms are also needed. The Government is reviewing and modernising the planning system and implementing actions to bolster capacity and improve innovation and productivity in the construction sector. Recently, the Government launched the start of a Construction Work and Skills Week, which focuses on recruitment, apprenticeships, women in construction and starting your own business. We’re also taking measures to address vacancy and homelessness."

Ireland's official homeless statistics distinguish between homeless people and 'rough sleepers' - a sight familiar to anyone in an Irish town or city.

Officially, there were officially 94 in Dublin city in the last count - the reality is that there are far more and the numbers, many believe, are growing.

115 people homeless people died in 2021. That number is nearly double those of two years previous, when 49 people passed away without a home in Ireland.

Anne has a final word for the Government.

"I can't understand how all these homeless people are getting found dead on the street and still there is nothing done about it."

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