Sunday 23 October 2016

'I shouldn't have to rely on private handouts' - homeless Trinity hopeful

Erica Fleming, pictured with her daughter Emily, is hopeful of getting a grant to attend Trinity
Erica Fleming, pictured with her daughter Emily, is hopeful of getting a grant to attend Trinity

A homeless mum who was denied a vital grant to attend Trinity College has been offered private donations to help fund her education - but has refused them all.

Erica Fleming (30) was left heartbroken when she discovered she has been refused a Back to Education Allowance by the Department of Social Welfare.

The mum-of-one has thanked the public for their generosity - but she has opted not to accept any private offers of money as she believes it is up to the Government to help vulnerable people in our society.

"People have been contacting me offering me money and I've turned down every single offer of a donation, because I don't want it to fall to public donations," she said. "It shouldn't have to. I just want to highlight the fact that I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"Other people are talking about crowd-funding, but I don't want to do that. People are so generous, but it's not only me - there are other people in the exact same situation who wouldn't get a crowd-fund.

"It needs to change for everyone, not just me."

Erica and her daughter Emily (10) have been living in hotel rooms for a year, and Erica was thrilled when she secured a place on Trinity's Access programme in May.

However, due to the fact she works part-time, she does not qualify for the €217 per week allowance. In order to qualify, she would need to be unemployed for 234 days.

Her story has struck a chord with many people and Erica hopes to create awareness of the barriers facing lone parents.


"I'm really thrilled that people are understanding the predicament that I, and other lone parents, are in," she said.

"What's striking is I don't think people understood the barriers we're facing as lone parents. I don't think people were aware of how much we are being held back, so I'm really pleased with that."

There has been some negative feedback, she said, but these are "few and far between", and she said: "I don't allow it to upset me."

Erica has pinned her hopes of attending college on Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar reversing the changes brought in by ex-Tanaiste Joan Burton last year, when she held that role.

"I'm really hoping that, because he didn't make the decision, he sees how wrong it was and resolves it quickly," she said.

On the back of the changes last year, Erica lost her One Parent Family payment and was transferred to the Family Income Supplement (FIS).

However, while receiving the One Parent Family payment would have qualified her for the Back to Education Allowance, the FIS does not.

This week the mum-of-one will meet with several people in Trinity to see if there are other grants that may help her.

The one-year course, which will begin on September 10, will be a stepping stone in her efforts to become a social worker she said.

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