Our first experience of life, of living, of having relationships starts within the home, within a community. Imagine then if a series of life events cause you to lose or force you to leave your home …What then?
When I was a young girl growing up in Thomas Street in Warrenpoint, I recall the fear of being awakened from a deep sleep to flee the safety of home because of a bomb scare. As the eldest of 6 children, I could see the anguish in my parents’ eyes and in that of my neighbours as we gathered in the nearby Panto Club until the bomb scare abided or we could begin to pick up the pieces of our broken home, after the Liverpool Hotel or Crown Hotel had been bombed.
Reflecting on those days, I recall the absolute overwhelming fear of dread- “Where will we go if our home is blown up? What about our pets, our photos, belongings? Our home is where we feel safe.
Thankfully my late mother always kept a large suitcase packed at the bottom of her bed in case we had to run in the middle of the night, she was prepared for us to face a temporary home. Throughout the Troubles, I can recall many bombs and bomb scares that impacted on our community. Thankfully our family didn’t need to seek temporary accommodation but that fear of being subject to external factors and losing your home resonates with me each time I hear a co-worker talk through new homelessness prevention referrals.
Talk about homeless people, and most of us immediately think of street sleepers, it’s not the only form of homelessness. Homelessness also includes people without a permanent home, or those living in unsuitable temporary hostels or bed and breakfasts or those sofa-surfing.
Locally, the impact of private landlords dramatically increasing rents for long-standing tenants is causing severe stress for those in the private rental sector. Eviction from a privately rented home is one of the leading causes of homelessness. Short contracts, unfair evictions, and sky-high rents mean people struggle to keep a roof over their head.
Recently, a local family watched on helplessly as their landlord raised the rent from £450 per month to £750;
“We tried to negotiate, in the end we begged to stay. Our family had been in this home for ten years and here we were forced to pack up and leave knowing there is little chance of finding a rental property within our budget “
Whilst the NIHE and partner organisations provide strong practical support and guidance to those at risk of homelessness, our support team are working to prevent homelessness more and more often. Our work often involves mediating, support with budgeting, clean and clears and provision of somewhere to come and talk things through over a cup of tea and a friendly face in our Star Bites-57 social cafe.
Whilst we all do what we can, housing is a human right. It’s a key element of infrastructure and without adequate housing, we fail people and fail society.
Recently, we became aware of a local couple- long-standing rental clients who watched helplessly as the landlord removed their front door, forcing the couple to vacate the property without having anywhere else to go.
The solution to homelessness is more homes. Yet successive governments have failed to build enough, there’s no way you can solve homelessness without houses. The lack of social housing has left many without access to affordable homes where they can feel secure and connected.
Amidst the escalating concern of the cost-of-living crisis, many of our neighbours and friends who have just managed to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are being impacted daily by a major housing crisis. While most people focus on the most obvious hardships of the rising cost of living such as increases in gas, oil, there are much wider repercussions.
On a daily basis at Bolster Community, we meet and support parents, families, and young people hugely impacted by the insecurity of not knowing if they can maintain their rent, their mortgage or transport costs.
The knock-on effect on mental health, relationships and education is significant, and for many of our beneficiaries, coming to a charity for help is not something they ever imagined happening.
Another family we support were recently evicted from a private rental. With no way to meet the new rent rate required, they had no alternative but move in with an elderly parent. The ensuing stress has taken its toll on the mental health of the parents, grandparent and children- everyone is feeling under more pressure. Mum of three Caroline explained:
“It’s not just the shame I feel as a parent, losing our home and gathering our belongings to move in with my parents but the frustration that we both work hard, live within our means and we were totally to avoid this situation”
Often, life events cause people to spiral into homelessness, in our Community Navigator project, project worker Joanne Carragher has witnessed many difficult situations where unexpected life events such as a relationship breakdown, losing a job, or physical or mental health problems disrupt ordinary lives. If you do not have somewhere to call home, or a benefit system to support you, an unexpected life event can be the tipping for you to lose your home.
If you’re leaving prison, have poor mental health, are a person of colour or experiencing domestic abuse or receive benefits – you are often at greater risk of homelessness.
Bolster Community works in partnership with a range of agencies and organisations in a joined-up way to maximise support and opportunity to sustain tenancies. We have also provided regular updates to MLAS and MPs seeking to find solutions so no one is left out in the cold, our politicians are well aware of the growing statistics of homelessness in our area and many have been supportive and committed to turning the curve. The impasse at Stormont however, is an obstacle that no one seems able to navigate at the moment.
If you would like to learn more about our work in supporting individuals and families impacted by homelessness, give us a ring on like us on FB, follow us on twitter or LinkedIn.