herald

Saturday 20 July 2019

'It's like living in a prison' - homeless mum tells of kids' hell in family hub

Son (10) has ADHD medication doubled to help him cope with sharing cramped room

Selina Hogan and her children Scott (10) and Lauren (16) outside the family hub where they live in Ballyfermot.
Selina Hogan and her children Scott (10) and Lauren (16) outside the family hub where they live in Ballyfermot.

A mother who has been living in a family hub with her two children for a year-and-a-half has described it as "like prison", saying her son's ADHD medication has been almost doubled just to help him cope.

Selina Hogan (32) has been staying in a hub in Ballyfermot, Dublin, with her son Scott (10), who has ADHD and Asperger's syndrome, and daughter Lauren (16).

The family had lived in a hotel for six months beforehand after her landlord announced the home she had been renting in spring 2017 would be sold.

"Scott missed out on playing on his own street with friends," Ms Hogan told the Herald.

"He got really frustrated and because he has ADHD his medication had to be doubled in the last 18 months as he had no space.

"My son has Asperger's as well, so he has trouble expressing his emotions. Scott kept saying he didn't know why he was so angry but he didn't like it and I knew it was because of the way we've had to live.

Trauma

"He was only on 20mg of Ritalin 24 months ago but now he's on 35mg.

"For special needs children like Scott, in this situation, sleeping in one room, in a bed with his mother - that's not acceptable."

Ms Hogan said families were being left with "emotional trauma".

"You have nothing, no space. We've had nearly two years with no proper amenities, having to live like prisoners," she added.

Fr Peter McVerry
Fr Peter McVerry

"We have a bunk bed. My daughter sleeps on the top bed and my son and I in a double bed at the bottom."

Ms Hogan spoke about her family's experience in the wake of the No Place Like Home report from the Ombudsman for Children's Office, which revealed children as young as five have tried to run away from hubs. Other children described the facilities as being "like a children's jail".

The first publicly-funded study of children living in hubs involved discussions with 37 aged five to 17. Some children said they had a lack of space and privacy, triggering stress.

A nine-year-old girl said she read in the toilet while her sister slept.

Children also told how they wanted friends to play with but visitors were not always allowed and the families endured shame for being homeless.

Ms Hogan said that, while children and friends could theoretically visit the hub where she lives, it was only for two hours at a time. She said they were not able to visit the play or communal areas.

"So there was no point. If kids visited you'd have to take them out to the park," she said.

"There wasn't room for them to sit in the one room with us to play.

"Even if we wanted to stay out overnight, to go away on a trip spontaneously, we couldn't. We were only allowed three nights a month to stay out. And to access those nights I'd have to ring the homeless unit and request booking ourselves out.

"That's like a prisoner asking can I go away for the weekend.

"My daughter told me she went from being 14 to feeling like she was 25.

"She missed out on a whole period of her teenage life, when she should have been having friends on sleepovers, doing her hair and make-up and going off to teenage discos."

Ms Hogan added: "There's only two cookers in the entire hub, so we have to cook dinner quickly - within 20 minutes.

Suicidal

"That means there's no time to prepare healthy meals - it's quick oven meals like chicken goujons. The only time the kids eat healthily is when I take them out for Sunday dinner."

Ms Hogan said she had heard extremely concerning stories from several mothers at other hubs.

"They told me about their teenage children, some as young as 16, feeling suicidal," she said.

"We're about to move into our own council house finally but it's going to take time to convince my children this is a permanent home, that we won't have to leave.

"The kids had to see a part of life they should never have seen and they now know life isn't fair and the Government let them and all the other homeless families down.

"We were made to feel less by a system that treated us like criminals for being homeless."

Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said: "When the Government first announced the hubs, they were meant to house families for three to six months. Now they're being used as a medium-term option.

"They are better than hotel rooms, with more space and access to cooking facilities, but the problem is the length of time families are staying in them.

"The report has showed the damaging effect on families. In 20 years time, we will be setting up a redress board for the damage inflicted by the State for failing to provide homeless families housing."

According to the latest Dublin regional homeless statistics from February, 740 families, made up of 1,079 adults and 1,724 children, live in hotels and B&Bs.

Some 114 families - or 153 adults and 215 children - live in private emergency accommodation; 42 families - 56 adults and 86 children -live in supported temporary accommodation; and 392 families - 537 adults and 781 children -live in hubs.

Altogether that adds up 1,288 families - 1,825 adults and 2,806 children - living in homeless services.

A DHRE spokeswoman said: "Family hubs are an important first response to families who become homeless and have no alternative other than commercial hotels for emergency accommodation.

"Family hubs are considered to be more appropriate and suitable accommodation for families, with a range of support services including cooking facilities, meals on site, play space, cooking and laundry facilities, communal recreation space, key-working and homework clubs.

"Significant progress has been achieved in moving families from hotels/B&Bs to family hubs. Currently there are 392 families residing in family hub-type accommodation across the Dublin Region."

A Department of Housing spokesperson said: "Family hubs are a more appropriate first response than hotels. However, they must be run to the highest possible standards and they must remain a temporary response for families living in them.

"This year some 10,000 homes will be added to the social housing stock and in excess of 5,000 individuals will leave homelessness.

"Addressing homelessness is a priority for this Government."

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