Video credit: David Murphy
Activists, charity workers, filmmakers and homeless mothers crowded into the In-spire Galerie on Gardiner Street last Wednesday, 25th July, to watch Through the Cracks by Bold Puppy Productions. It's an 11-minute dramatised testimonial, which preceded an emotional panel discussion (a clip of which you can see here), giving a face to a problem that often reduces the individual stories of those involved to mind-numbing statistics.
"We’re probably guilty at times of putting out numbers," says Brian McLoughlin of Inner City Helping Homeless, "but you have to do it because it’s the only language that the Government understand."
The film explores the difficulties faced by families subjected to sudden evictions from their private rentals, currently permissible under the law if the landlord wishes to sell the property.
Landlord evictions are the primary driver of homelessness in Ireland for families, according to a recent Focus Ireland report. Families who fear losing their place on the social housing list by availing of the Homeless Housing Assistance Programme (HHAP) scheme have come to regard private rentals as unreliable, and many have ended up in 'hubs'.
However, the Minister insisted that the scheme was working and that families housed under HAP would remain on a transfer list for social housing.
The small gallery, spanning two reception rooms in a Georgian building evokes an era that defines Dublin, yet much of the city dates from the middle of the 20th century. Between 1950 and 1970, 25% of the housing stock still in use today was built by a poorer state which faced the challenges of mass emigration, inward migration to the capital and slum clearances.
By contrast the developer-led model preferred by Government today, through initiatives like the Rebuilding Ireland programme, seeks to provide funding for 87,000 private rental units, and would in fact be €23.8 billion more expensive than a local authority building them over a 30-year period.
"Homelessness is at the worst it has ever been in the history of the State, and yet our Government will stand up there and tell you that we are in recovery," McLoughlin continued.
"When the homeless figures were released yesterday there was a reduction of two children from the month before, and Eoghan Murphy had the neck to come out and say it’s stabilising."
"We remember when then first couple of hubs were opened; we started a campaign to try and go against the hubs. There was a Bargaintown out in the north side that was bought to be a family hub. How in the name of God is that a home for any child to live in?"
"He’s said he knows where the big knives are and that he doesn’t want to live anymore"
Dirs: Nathan Fagan and Luke Daly (2018)
"The people who are supposed to be representing us are listening to the vested interests, to landlords and to vulture funds"
Photo credit: David Murphy, featured: Lucas Carson, Luke Daly, Ingrid Casey, Clare O'Connell & Shauna McCallum
“I had to bring my daughter to A&E in Our Lady’s Hospital for her security, [and under their] watch for three days. As she was getting dressed she got the robes, and she was putting them around her neck," says Shauna McCallum, describing her daughter's reaction to a conflict at her hub.
"She knew what she was doing; completely tying them around her neck, saying she hated her life."
“I just want a home. I want my friends to sleep over; she said, 'Mammy why do I feel like this? Because I don’t know why I feel like this.' I don’t know how my daughter feels. I’m not inside her body.
"I can only see by her expressions," says Shauna. "She seemed upset. She seemed withdrawn from people, and also school has said that she’s a withdrawn child; she won’t mix with children. She sits right beside the teacher’s desk.”
Family hubs "restrict the capacity to live normal lives and have devastating impacts on family, adult and child wellbeing", according to a Maynooth University Oireachteas submission made last year and may represent a form of institutionalisation.
The fact of using old Magdalen laundries to house women and children while the state discusses how to compensate the original survivors looks like history repeating itself 'first as tragedy, then as farce'.
“I got put in there in February, and in June my best friend committed suicide and a week later, my dad got cancer," says Jenny Quinn, who lives with her son in an old Magdalen laundry. "My son was in this tiny little room with me, watching me fall apart. That was the worst part because I already suffered with such anxiety and depression and it all came flooding back."
Jenny had been homeless as a teenager and spoke passionately about her desire to give her son the childhood she missed out on. She had moved out on her own terms as a young woman, having completed her education.
She rented privately for years, worked and - like many families in Ireland - was just a few pay cheques away from having to seek assistance; that's how she ended up in a family hub based in the old Magdalen laundry on Grace Park Road.
“My son breaks down crying every night about how ashamed he is," she continued, "how lonely he is, how he doesn’t want anyone in his school to know; how, if they find out… and I try and educate my son as to what is going on in Ireland but he’s ten [years old].
"He’s said he knows where the big knives are, and that he doesn’t want to live anymore and what’s the point of living? If it’s just going to be like this, and how lonely he is and that he has no friends… and, when’s it going to be my turn, mammy?”
“We need to build public housing," says Clodagh Schofield from Uplift, which is seeking public support for a proposed 'People's Housing Plan'. "We need to cap rents. We need emergency housing that’s dignified and private. We need laws so that landlords and vulture funds can’t evict people to make more money; that’s a disgrace.
"We’ve noticed for quite some time that the obstacle is that they’re not listening to the people, says Clodagh Schofield, "the people who are supposed to be representing us are listening to the vested interests, to landlords and to vulture funds."
"Just remember," says producer Ingrid Casey, "this could happen to your sister, your friend, your aunt, your niece, your nephew; anyone in your life. It nearly happened to me four years ago - I was that close to it - and I think it was because I was outside of the Dublin jurisdiction that I got lucky.”
“I would implore everyone who watches this film to share it on Twitter, on Facebook, show it to all your friends, contact your local TD and councillors; on our Twitter page we have made a downloadable letter that’s a template which you can email to anyone you need to."
Families not in hubs can often find themselves with nowhere to go after 5pm until they are housed, often very much later in the evening when they arrive, exhausted, at hotels or bed and breakfasts. With the asking price for a house having risen by more than 54% on average since 2012, more families can expect to be evicted from private rentals even with HHAP, as investors seek to realise the value of their assets. Evictions are the primary cause of family homelessness and, in a worrying trend, the problem is not confined to Dublin.
The housing emergency in Ireland is the legacy of speculators, proponents of austerity and rentiers. Not for the first time, the Irish find themselves at the mercy of landlords and a government unable or unwilling to defend the social contract. A dizzying array of figures can conceal rather than reveal the obvious human tragedy playing out every day on the streets or behind closed doors for any of one of us that have fallen through the cracks.