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‘I’m 78, and by the end of this month I will be homeless’

Campaigners warned that a ‘tsunami of homelessness’ would follow the lifting of the eviction ban last month. Micheline Walsh and her son-in-law, UCD politics professor David Farrell, describe what happens after the notice to quit lands

The number of homeless people in the State reached almost 12,000 in the most recent figures. In all, 8,516 adults and 3,472 children were living in emergency accommodation last month. Now the eviction ban has been lifted, campaigners and opposition politicians have warned those numbers will rise further. Retiree Micheline Walsh and her son-in-law, UCD politics professor David Farrell describe how the homelessness crisis will soon affect their family.

Micheline Walsh: We may end up in a room in a Dublin city centre hostel. But what do I do with my pets? My lifetime of belongings?

I am 78 years old and I am weeks away from being made homeless. I am someone who has always rented, usually in long-term arrangements. I have always paid my rent on time and have had excellent relationships with landlords. We have been at our current address for seven years, but our landlord now wants to sell the property.

Since the notice to evict first arrived, I’ve spent months desperately trying to find somewhere else for my husband and me to live. My husband suffered a seriously debilitating stroke some years ago and has numerous health problems, including vision impairment and the inability to read. I can’t count the number of estate agents I’ve dealt with, none of whom ever returned my calls; the same applies to the many applications I continue to send. I’ve been from one section of the county council to the next — housing allocations, the medical section, the homeless section — dealing with administrators who have, for the most part, tried to be helpful. But it quickly becomes apparent just how powerless they are to help.

I was advised to have my husband’s health assessed by the medical section of the council so that we might be moved up the priority list, but then I discovered that the assessment could take six to nine months because there is just one part-time GP processing applications.


Our status as pensioners on a low income further complicates matters: to access the Hap (Housing Assistance Payment) scheme you need to first find a rental property, but many landlords run a mile from Hap renters; in any event, the HAP allowance seriously underestimates the price of rentals, and the rules of the scheme limit our ability to top it up.

This is why I have spent the last few months going from pillar to post, helplessly chasing non-responsive estate agents, seeking support from different sections of the council and from organisations like Threshold and Place Finders, pursuing reports from doctors, occupational therapists and social workers, writing to local TDs and councillors, filling out form after endless form. But with each passing day, the dreaded deadline draws near.

The eviction ban may have given us more time, but it was just temporary relief from the inevitable. When I asked the council how to prepare for the moment of eviction, I was told to contact the homeless section of the county council the morning of the day of eviction and they will send a request to the central emergency accommodation sector. I was advised to expect that we may end up in a room in a Dublin city centre hostel.

In the meantime, what do I do with our beloved pets? With pet rescues overloaded, the most humane thing may be to have them put to sleep. What about the furniture and personal effects accumulated over a lifetime? I worry about how my husband will survive the moment of eviction. It appears that moving in with my daughter and son-in-law is not a viable option because to do so removes us from the priority list; couch surfing with family members releases the State of any responsibility.

Every morning, when I wake, the reality of our predicament descends on me and I am afraid. I grit my teeth and set about reducing everything around me to the bare minimum, so we are ready to meet this oncoming train.

David Farrell: Every day, hosts of families like ours are going through the terror of the unknown

As a professor of politics at UCD, this experience happening in my family has given me a whole new perspective on the Irish political system. We know that now, finally, there is official recognition of this as a housing crisis. Government statements refer to the millions being thrown at the problem, to their housing targets, and to various new initiatives. They say that there are signs that we are “turning a corner”. But tell that to the family being evicted from their home tomorrow morning.

What seems to be lacking in much of the debate is that this is not just a housing crisis; it is also a homeless crisis. Every day, hosts of families like ours are going through the terror of the unknown about where to live, how to survive and how to get out of this mess. And even if this is not a mess of their making, that doesn’t prevent a strong sense of personal shame being felt by those being made homeless, as well as by family members who feel powerless to help.

More attention needs to be paid to the immediate problem of people being made homeless. There needs to be more joined-up thinking within Government — this crisis is now well beyond the remit of the Minister of Housing — between Government and local councils, as well as within local councils, who should be given the resources needed to manage the process in a more client-focused way.

For official Ireland, this is a housing crisis in name but not in spirit. The Covid-19 pandemic showed us how the Government and the State apparatus can react in a time of true crisis: a high-level committee, including relevant outside experts, calling the shots; all the levers of State brought to bear on the problem; help sought from across society; a joined-up approach to problem-solving; daily media briefings. The process was costly and at times messy, mistakes were made and on occasions, feathers ruffled. But it got things done and did so speedily.

We need to invoke that same spirit today. This housing crisis is not imaginary: every day real people like my mother-in-law, through no fault of their own, are being made homeless. The shame of being put in this position should not fall on them, but on a Government that is not treating this crisis with the true seriousness it deserves. Doomsday for Micheline and her husband is the end of this month.