Europe

'We're not animals – we're normal people like you' – Ciara (11) captures struggle as 3,800 kids set to be homeless at Christmas

Ciara holds Olaf, a cuddly snowman toy, close to her chest. The toy is a reminder of her favourite film, ‘Frozen’. The movie tells the tale of sisters Anna and Elsa, who conquer a harsh world to save their kingdom.

It seems little wonder the child loves the movie. Of course the animated world has provided her hope.

The young girl, referred to as ‘Ciara’ for this piece, breaks into tears repeatedly as she speaks of her experience of homelessness with her mother, who’s clearly done all she can to try to shelter her child physically and mentally from the reality of the housing crisis.

But Ciara is much quieter than many other girls her age. She’s remarkably innocent and still adores her cuddly toys. It seems while other girls her age have already started moving away from childhood things for make-up and other more grown-up interests, Ciara (11) is clinging to mementoes of childhood.

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“I’ve been here for about six months. It’s gone slowly. I don’t know why,” she says, before breaking down for the first time. “I’m sorry,” she adds. Ciara’s mother moves in to comfort her daughter and encourages her to continue, to have her say.

And Ciara nods, she wants to carry on, even though she finds it incredibly painful to admit she’s a child without a home, without security and bereft of normal family life.

Anyone could understand just why she’s finding it hard to speak of this. No child should even be living this.

“There was blood on the walls of the first place we stayed in,” Ciara says, looking downward, as though somehow this is her fault.

“They used to play music ’til 3am downstairs. It kept me awake and I was going to school. I was really tired.

“It was really annoying. It was upsetting, I was trying to sleep and all I could hear was loud music. I was tired in school the next day and grumpy.”

Ciara’s mother, who is 40, explains they’d become homeless 20 months ago after a family breakdown.

They had stayed with friends for a time but there had not been enough room. The small family had to do as thousands of homeless people have and asked for help from the State.

The mother declared her family homeless and the journey through hotels and B&Bs began.

Her daughter saw many instances of anti-social behaviour during this time, incidents she’d wished she’d never been exposed to.

But finally the family were moved to a family hub in Dublin city several months ago. To have one place to return to after a day at school, is at least better than having to constantly move from one place to another.

“It’s been hard moving round but at least here it’s better as people are more welcoming,” Ciara says.

“We have a place to go to at least, somewhere to come to and we don’t have to keep moving around.”

The young girl remembers a nasty comment a man made at one of the B&Bs she’d stayed at and it clearly stung so greatly, the words still affect her.

“He said homeless people were animals – and that’s not right, that’s not true.

“We are just normal people, like everyone else, there’s nothing different about us.

“People feel we are not as good but we are the same as any other children.

“We are not animals, we are normal people, we are no different.

“Some people think we’re not as good as them. It makes me sad. I think if they met me, they’d see I’m like their child.

“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up yet but I want my own little house and my own garden, with all fairy lights and flowers. I want my bedroom to be pink and to have fairy lights in the garden and inside the house.

“I can’t invite my friends round to play right now, so I want a house to bring my friends round and have fun.”

Instead she is in an environment where the Christmas decorations are sparse and there are signs everywhere reminding children this is an official State building, not a home.

It is not somewhere they can run around, exploring the innocence and fun of childhood.

Without doubt, the family feel hubs are a better option than being shunted from hotel to hotel, a life of chaos.

But there is no escaping the institutional atmosphere which surely comes with a building run by the State.

“We went to family last Christmas,” Ciara said. “I hope to go to my nanny’s for Christmas Day.

“If I could have a Christmas wish, I’d want to have my own home, just my own home.” Again she weeps.

Ciara knows she should have a home to go to this Christmas. She’s only a child.

“She’s a popular girl at school,” her mother says. “She just wants a home like everyone else.

“If I tell landlords or estate agents ‘I’ll have the deposit in two weeks’ of course they’ll go for the tenant with cash, it’s the law of the land, it’s tough.

“They associate HAP with something it isn’t. They forget … we’re not animals. We’re just the same as you, families who love each other, want the best for each other.

“We just fell on hard times, we had bad luck.”

A Department of Housing spokesman said: “The Government has prioritised addressing homelessness and next year funding will increase to €166m.

“Hubs are only a temporary measure, until the supply of social housing increases. The average stay in a hub is around six months.

“In the first nine months of the year a total of 4,389 adults, and their associated dependants, exited homelessness to a home.

“The Government is determined to increase the stock of social housing by 50,000 homes by 2021 under Rebuilding Ireland, with money ring-fenced to achieve this.”

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