HELEN McInerney has never abused drink or drugs and has always paid her bills on time. Still, she now sleeps alone in a homeless shelter after her landlord sold her rented family home on the private market.
Helen says her sudden plunge into homelessness, which split her from her daughter and her grandchildren, splintering them into separate emergency homeless shelters, has been “horrible” and “heartbreaking”.
After living out of a hotel room, she has been staying for the past six months at the Temporary Emergency Provision (TEP) accommodation centre run by the Novas homeless charity in Limerick.
However, the shelter’s house rules, similar to that of the emergency family hub where her daughter and grandchildren now sleep, mean that she cannot receive visits from anyone – including her family.
Holding back tears while sitting in her lonely surroundings and hugging a teddy bear belonging to one of her grandchildren, Helen said: “I have nowhere to meet my grandchildren, so now we meet on the street corners of Limerick City, it’s devastating.”
In a warning to others who may believe they are cushioned from the desolation of homelessness, 54-year-old Helen offered: “It can happen to anybody – people don’t realise it, until it happens you are clueless.”
“I always thought ‘that’s definitely not me’, sure why would it come and knock on my door?”
Helen has engaged with Limerick City and County Council’s housing department, and completed all the necessary paperwork in order to apply for an affordable home for her and her family, but, “it’s just that there are no properties out there”.
In its 2022 annual report, published today (Friday) Novas warned that “fewer” people were able to access its temporary homeless accommodation in Limerick and Dublin last year because of the “protracted length of time people spent living there”.
Painting a stark outlook through to 2024, Una Burns, head of policy and communications at Novas, said: “Temporary and emergency homeless accommodation is designed for six months or less, but what we are finding now is that many of our residents are living in services for years.”
Residents living for longer in emergency shelters also face “becoming institutionalised as you can lose your life skills because you don’t have opportunities to cook for yourself, to pay your own bills, to manage a home like people would like to do”.
Una Deasy, Novas chief executive, added that “a lack of one-bed units in particular” had made exit pathways from homelessness “extraordinarily difficult” and that access to emergency accommodation was being “blocked” by “single adults” who were “too long stuck” in the temporary system.
Novas said that accessibility at its Limerick TEP dropped from 320 in 2018 to 181 last year.
Despite her ordeal, Helen McInerney said she remained hopeful that she would one day again “be able to cook for my grandchildren and be a meaningful part of their lives”.
Novas launched eight one-bed Georgian style apartments on Newenham Streett in Limerick City (the first Georgian redevelopment nationally to achieve a A3 BER rating), built by Shineline Limited, to allow people a direct pathway out of homelessness.
56-year-old Roy Finn from Moyross, who spent the past 20 years in and out of homeless services, said being offered one of the eight apartments was “like winning the lotto”.
“This is a fabulous place, I’m definitely looking forward to the future now. I’ll cook a lot more now, I love cooking, I used to work in the kitchens in hostels.”
“I’m finally in my own place now, I know there are still people from Novas that I can call on, but just to have my own independence is important.”