Mum's desperate daily struggle to find shelter for her children

Susie McConville with her two young kids
Susie McConville with her two young kids

A MOTHER-OF-TWO left homeless last year has told how she is on the verge of total exhaustion from her daily struggle to find somewhere for her children to sleep.

Shattered Susie McConville has been living a nightmare since she fell behind in her rent last summer.

She was struggling to survive on social welfare payments while at­tending college in UCC, studying archaeology as a mature student, when she lost her home.

The single Cork mother is the face of the hidden homeless in modern Ireland, one of numerous families in her city surviving day-to-day with their kids in B&Bs, hotels or friends' spare rooms.

She has only a few plastic bags of clothes to drag around since all her belongings were dumped in a skip by her landlord last summer, after she left the city for two weeks to spend time with a friend in nearby Mallow.

"I feel like I'm failing my kids," she said. "I feel like they're looking at me for hope and slowly losing it. Slowly but surely they see the light is going out in mammy.

"I have a constant knot of fear in my stomach. I don't know how much more I can take. My little girl asks: 'Where are we going tonight? Where is my home, mammy?'

"This isn't living. It is hanging on by a thread before snapping.

"I'm homeless and my two children are homeless. Last Thursday I was told there was no room in the B&B and I don't have anywhere else to go until next Tuesday. From one day to the next I'm relying on friends.

"This has to stop. My kids are going to end up losing their mother if things keep going the way they are going. We don't matter because we are hidden. I feel like I don't exist. I didn't even get a census form.

"It’s the hardest thing to talk about this, but people have to know what is going on."

Susie got her life back on track four years ago when she went back to college after overcoming a nervous breakdown following a series of tragic events.

Her first child Na­than was tragically stillborn 12 years ago after a difficult, pre­mature labour.

Two years later her partner Peter Lynch was stabbed to death by his brother Patrick 'Pa' Lynch at their family home in Cork, in August 2006.

In April 2007, grief-stricken Susie found her five-month-old daughter dead in her council house from Sud­den Infant Death Syndrome.

She said: "I had four high-risk preg­nancies. I lost my first son, Nathan, he was stillborn. I lost my partner, Peter, he was stabbed to death by his brother.

"I had to bury my child next to her dad. Nine months after him. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life.

"I had the trial in Dublin a week to the day after I buried her. I came back from the trial and I had a nervous break­down. I just fell apart and couldn't stay in the house after finding my child dead there. I handed back the council keys a year later and walked away."

She said she was deactivated from the council housing list after getting into arrears while she was suffering from a breakdown, but she is now ap­plying to get back on the list.

After renting a house in Cork for almost five years, she was left dev­astated when she was evicted for arrears. All her belongings were dumped in three skips.

"My son and my daughter died and my son's dad and everything was thrown into a skip. All the photographs, all their toys, everything. All I have now is a few plastic bags of clothes."

She said she struggled to pay all the bills while she was in full-time education as she also had to pay to put her youngest daughter in a creche, but she went back to college to try and build a proper life for her young children.

"I don't want to be stuck on welfare for the rest of my life. I don't drink, I smoke a little and I just want to get my own home and go back to college or get a job," she said.

She stayed with a friend in Mallow after getting evicted. When she re­turned to Cork she stayed with her sister for a few weeks, but was unable to stay any longer as her sister has two autistic kids.

The McConville family are one of thousands around the country caught in the housing crisis. Cork charity Penny Dinners say they have resorted to delivering groceries to homeless families and are running a Holy Communion shop during May.

The highly articulate 35-year-old has to walk up to 20 miles a day trying to get her 10-year-old boy and five-year-old daughter to school across the city and often goes without food for days, with just cups of coffee to keep her going.

Since January she has stayed in five B&Bs in the city with her son and her daughter but she said they can be told to leave their cramped, one-bedroom accommodation with just a few hours' notice, depending on the bookings for the day.

"It's not OK to live like this. We hav­en't a hope of getting a house. Most of the three bedroomed ones are €1,400 and I have €725 rent allowance. I can't get a two-bedroomed house because under law my kids have to have their own bedroom as they are a boy and a girl."

She said it is heartbreaking to see her two bright, well-mannered chil­dren go without so much other kids take for granted.

She said: "It's my daughter’s birth­day in two weeks. How can you tell a five-year-old in school that you have nowhere to bring her for a party?

"They are so down. They are falling behind in school. They are two very intelligent kids.

"They can't see me cry, they can't see me break down. I'm determined. I feel lonely. I feel I can't get on with my life. I have no options.

"We eat pot noodles or cup-a-soup or boil eggs in a kettle because that's all we have. We don't even have a microwave.

"It's the chipper or if I've exhausted my money that week because of trav­elling expenses I have to get friends to feed us. You would be begging peo­ple to take you in for a bit of dinner.

"The kids are exhausted. They are physically and mentally worn out. My 10-year-old is very aware of what is going on.

"I suffer from depression and see my doctor every two weeks."

She said it would save the State money to put them into one of the many barred-up council homes in north Cork.

"I’d take anywhere. Give us a house, whatever con­dition. People in our posi­tion aren't fussy. It would cost €500 to take down the shutters in a board­ed-up council house in Mayfield where my friends and sister are.

"They spend €36,000 a year, €600 a week, paying for a B&B room for us and I pay €30. It would be a dream come true for my kids. It would be their forever home."