Stuck homeless: ‘As soon as you mention Hap, landlords don’t want it’

Two women share their experiences of homelessness and explain how hard it is to escape

Shirley-Ann Steffen (52), originally from East Wall in Dublin, worked in the UK, Paris and Switzerland as an executive personal assistant and project manager before returning to Ireland in 2018 following a marriage break-up.

Unable to secure full-time work – “I was told I was over-qualified” – until recently, her savings dwindled.

Her housing situation became increasingly precarious. Following the death of a close friend earlier this year she had a serious breakdown, resulting in her losing her job and being hospitalised for several months. With nowhere to go following her discharge in August, she stayed with a friend for a few nights before being placed in emergency accommodation.

She is now in a Depaul-managed residence in Dublin with her own bedroom and shared kitchen and livingroom. While her accommodation is “fabulous”, her situation gets her “very down all the time”. She misses her cat, Charlie, who is being looked after by former neighbours. Her parents and older brother are all deceased.


Eligible for Hap, she has been viewing private-rented homes for over a year. “You’d be very lucky to get a one-bed for less than €1,200 a month. And as soon as you mention Hap, landlords don’t want it,” she says.

Her self-confidence has been badly damaged, she says. “I worked so hard all my life to have everything and to be able to give everything. Not having that stability any more is very hard.

“I don’t have the faith in myself any more to be able to fight the life that is going on. It could happen to anybody any time but acceptance of where I am and who I am now is very important.”

She is completing a Masters in Psychology in Trinity College. “Having that is helping me cope.”

Asked if she sees an exit from homelessness, she says: “No, certainly not if I have to do it through [Hap] – at least for the next three years. And I couldn’t imagine finding something for myself unless the prices go down.”

She likes to go to East Wall to see old friends. “But then there is a big gaping hole where everything is gone – my family, my own life, my own person. It’s just dramatically changed. Being homeless is probably one of the worst things anyone has to face, especially in this country now with so many people and families at risk.”

‘Louise’ (not her real name), mother of six children aged between five and 16 years, is facing her third Christmas in Depaul homelessness accommodation. Her five older children live with her parents outside Dublin, and her youngest is with her.

She is eligible for a four-bedroom house and has viewed dozens of houses in the private rented sector. “I’d get to the viewing 40 minutes early and there’d be 30 people already in the queue, most of them with three months’ rent in cash on them. How could I compete?”

She has been on the council housing list for eight years. “I’ve been told by the council having six children is a ‘peculiar situation’ and they can’t even tell me where I am on the list.

“I worry about my children, only being able to see them at the weekend. I know it affects my eldest. She is just so eager to be with me. I am always saying to her, ‘Hopefully next year. Hopefully next year’, and she says, ‘You’ve been saying that years now mammy’.”

Homeless families

The number of homeless families in Dublin finding homes in the private rented sector has fallen to its lowest rate in five years, new figures show.

Data from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) show just six families exited homelessness into private rented homes with the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) last October, while 12 got social housing. That month, there were 1,120 homeless families in Dublin, including 2,529 children.

In its most recent monthly report, the DRHE says: “The fall in families exiting homelessness to tenancies is concerning. The number of families moving to Hap from emergency accommodation... is the lowest in at least five years.”

It said the monthly average number of families exiting emergency accommodation to tenancies in 2022 is 33, compared with 57 in 2021, 94 in 2020 and 95 in 2019.

A total of 906 families newly presented as homeless across Dublin between January and October last year. Just 329 exited during the same period.

Frontline agencies said the figures underline the “collapse” of Hap as an exit route from homelessness. Larger families who need four- or five-bedroom homes are particularly “blocked” from exiting and can expect to spend several years homeless, they warned.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times